For example, the report said, a company called Return Path Inc. collects data for marketers "by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path's partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo email address".
Neither of these two companies sought explicit permission from the users to read their emails but say that it is covered under their user agreements.
Nearly exactly a year ago, Google promised to stop scanning your inbox to serve up ads in Gmail, but as the Journal's article details, executives of the vetted third-party companies claimed that their employees would read millions of emails and that it was "common practice".
The Wall Street Journal published what seemed like a bombshell report about developers being able to read your emails if you give them access to your Gmail account. Coming to Edison Software, they are a company that help users in managing their emails.
While these kind of apps do ask for user consent, numerous forms don't make it explicitly clear that a human will be reading through your emails, not just a machine.
In 2017, Google said its computers will soon stop reading the emails of its Gmail users to personalise their ads.
While messages are typically processed by computer algorithms, the newspaper spoke to several companies where employees had read "thousands" of email messages.
The feature was finally dropped a year ago, in a move welcomed by privacy advocates, but it turns out employees of third-party app developers may well have been reading your private messages. All the top tech companies are under pressure in the United States and in Europe to do more to protect user privacy and to be more transparent about any parties with access to people's data.
Google indicated that the practice was not against its policies. "This method was used to guide us in developing our Smart Reply functionality which was developed some time ago", CEO Mikael Berner said in a statement.
Google's mail service has always been criticized for the invasive practices of the company, which runs nearly entirely on employing all the data it collects on users to attract advertisers and target their wares to the people most likely to buy them.
Return Path also defended its actions.