Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Internet giants are letting software app developers scan through their email users’ inboxes when they’ve signed up for email-based services such as shopping price comparison services, WSJ reports.

Why it matters: The common practice is supposed to make software algorithms better so they can function better for users — but the users don’t appear to be made aware their emails are being read or asked if they would sign off on that in the first place. And companies that have said they’re not using this practice anymore still are.

Gmail said last year it was nixing a similar feature that scanned inboxes to personalize ads to hold "privacy and security paramount" — but it hasn’t followed through.

The details: Return Path, Inc., has computers analyze about 100 million emails per day. People who have accounts with Return Path and who use Microsoft, Yahoo, and Gmail for email are all impacted. Return Path read about 8,000 un-redacted emails for training purposes as well. Edison Software, a Gmail developer, scanned emails in a similar way.

What they're saying: Neither Return Path nor Edison asks users if hey could read emails. Oath said access to email is decided "on a case-by-case basis" and requires "express consent." Microsoft says its terms of use prevent developers from accessing data without consent.

  • Gmail said "before a non-Google app is able to access your data, we show a permissions screen that clearly shows the types of data the app can access and how it can use that data."

Go deeper

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his wife, Pamela, both tested positive for coronavirus, his office announced on Friday.

The state of play: The Northams were tested after one of their staff "who works closely within the couple's living quarters" tested positive. The governor is asymptomatic, while his wife is "experiencing mild symptoms." They plan to isolate at home for 10 days.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Amazon wants to flood America with Alexa cameras and microphones

Photo: Amazon

In a Thursday event unveiling a slew of new home devices ahead of the holidays, Amazon made clearer than ever its determination to flood America with cameras, microphones and the voice of Alexa, its AI assistant.

The big picture: Updating popular products and expanding its range to car alarms and in-home drones, Amazon extended its lead in smart home devices and moved into new areas including cloud gaming and car security. The new offerings will also fuel criticism that the tech giant is helping equip a society built around surveillance.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Oil's turbulent long-term future

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The oil sector is facing risks from all sides.

Why it matters: Risk in the industry is nothing new. But these are especially turbulent and uncertain times. The industry's market clout has waned, the future of demand is kind of a mystery, and future U.S. policy is too, just to name three.

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