The Privacy Flaw In The New Gmail

I love Gmail. It is my primary email address, and there are many features that make it a class apart from other email providers. Its integration with Google Drive is a life saver for many who deal with large files, and the ability to chat and check email at the same time makes it an even better utility site. And were it not for the automatic Promotions/Updates filter, I’d be drowning in my thousands of promotion spam emails right now.

However, in August 2018, Gmail underwent a design change, much to my displeasure.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many improvements that clearly went through a design review ūüėČ . Namely, the ability to check my Google Calendar and Tasks on the same page. These additions are value adds and successfully make accessing Google features easier for Gmail users.

Similar praise cannot be laid on some of the other changes though. For example, is it really necessary to see attachment names in my inbox page?¬†Maybe other people are more diligent about file names but seeing the actual file name/type in the inbox does not add any value to my Gmail use. I can usually tell what the attachment is likely to be when I see an an email from another person. “Oh yeah, Nick was supposed to send me his resume for a review, the attachment in this email from him is probably what that’s about.” This feature just seems a space hogger and nothing else.

Showing attachment names is unnecessary

My biggest problem, however, has to do with privacy. Under the sidebar containing Calendar, Keep, and Task is a little plus button that allows users to add 3rd party add-ons. Clicking on it takes me to the G-Suite Marketplace that I did not know existed before. Cool feature! More organization and productivity tools for me! If I regularly use Dropbox, I could add them to my Inbox page and boom!, all my Dropbox files are just a few clicks away from sharing them with my contacts.

The problem with this feature is that the extent to which our email content is shared with third party developers is unclear. Some add-on developers like Dropbox communicate their privacy policy. Even then, it’s pretty vague. I clicked on Dropbox’s¬†and Zoom’s¬†privacy policy links. Both take me to their generic company policy page, with no mention of Gmail add-ons. Some obscure add-ons like Dialpad don’t even have a link to their privacy policy. And its description makes it seem like it will indeed have access to my email content:

Definitely don’t want Dialpad to read my emails

While every add-on that wants to be published in the marketplace will go through an investigation, the application requirements¬†do not explicitly specify what data storage/manipulation are off-limits for third party developers. A classic case of “buyers beware”?

For people missing the old design, Gmail does allow you to go back to Gmail classic though I could not find a way to make it my default. Hopefully the next revamp will have more helpful feature changes than not.

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