Gmail Might Know Too Much About You

It might be more than you think

Key Takeaways

  • Google is disclosing how much data it collects from iOS Gmail users, and some might be surprised at the volume and breadth of the information.
  • Some observers say that Google is collecting too much data about users. 
  • There are a wide variety of mail app alternatives for users who want more privacy than Gmail offers.
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Google is pulling in massive amounts of data about iOS Gmail users, but experts say there are ways to keep your information private. 

Under a new Apple policy, app makers must reveal what data they are collecting. Google says its Gmail app is taking in information ranging from third-party advertising to analytics. And some observers say that it’s too much data. 

"Apple's new privacy policy has exposed the outlandish amounts of personal and usage information collected by Google, Facebook, and others," Chris Hauk, consumer privacy expert at privacy website PixelPrivacy, said in an email interview.

"Hopefully, the new policy will spur more developers to use less invasive methods of collecting info or to give up on the collection altogether."

Your Location Revealed

App developers have to give a lot more detail than previously was required about what data their apps are collecting under the new Apple policy.

For example, the policy also requires the developer to disclose other apps from which it gathers data, such as data from the Calendar app, or the Contacts app, Anne P. Mitchell, the dean of cyberlaw and cybersecurity at Lincoln Law School, said in an email interview. 

"In fact, there are no big surprises in what Google has disclosed in terms of the data it collects—after all, Google's primary business is data collection and the repackaging and monetizing of that data," Mitchell added. 

Some of the data that the iOS Gmail app collects includes user location, user ID, purchase history from within the app, and "usage data as information that's shared with third-party advertisers," Mitchell said. The app also collects contact info, user content, and search history. 

A key on a keyboard with the queston "Is your data safe" embossed on it in red lettering.
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Observers emphasize that while Google and other app developers are coughing up information about their data collection policies now, only new or updated apps require this disclosure.

"Older apps could very well still be using this data without the user seeing any prompts," Brenton House, developer relations lead at Axway, said in an email interview. 

If you’re not comfortable releasing all this information, Apple also has added users’ ability to block all apps from tracking by disabling the global "Allow Apps to Request to Track" setting in iOS, House noted.

"It is also possible that some iOS apps could break or lose some functionality in the future if the apps do not make the necessary updates needed to comply with Apple’s policies," he said. 

Privacy-Friendly App Alternatives

There are a wide variety of mail app alternatives for users who want more privacy than Gmail offers. Hauk recommends ProtonMail, "as the company operates under strict Swiss privacy laws and offers end-to-end encryption."

He also suggested Tutanota, "which also offers end-to-end encryption for email and has no ties to any third-parties to sell user data."

Fastmail is another good option, David Finkelstein, the CEO and co-founder ofconsumer data exchange platform BDEX, said in an email interview. "It’s an established email provider that has a couple of unique advantages," he added.

“Google's primary business is data collection and the repackaging and monetizing of that data.”

"Fastmail is one of the very few remaining providers that do not require an existing email address in order to create a new one," he said.

"This means that your newly created email will not be connected to any other addresses associated with your identity. Its relatively off-radar for many spammers and scammers, which means you’ll likely receive less junk mail than you do with Gmail."

Finkelstein said users should expect to get more information about how apps are using their data under new Apple guidelines. He added that "consumers can expect to see an influx of pop-up messages in their current apps requesting to utilize their data."

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