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Here’s why you should never trust those ‘privacy-focused’ email apps

A handful of third-party email clients have been found to be scraping their users’ inboxes for profit. A new report by Motherboard reveals that apps such as Edison Email, a popular and free cross-platform email service with millions of downloads, have been selling anonymized data and analytics they acquired from users’ accounts to corporate giants in the finance, travel, and e-commerce sectors.

By scanning people’s inboxes, these email platforms have been essentially able to stitch consumer metrics such as brand loyalty and purchase habits. Companies then process this information likely for their marketing campaigns, as well as future product development. The documents obtained by Motherboard also include two more major email apps: CleanFox and Japan-based conglomerate, Rakuten’s Slice.

Email companies primarily gain access and rights to actively scan users’ inboxes through “personalized” features. These tools go through all the emails a person receives and format them in a more readable layout. For instance, Edison has a package-tracking section where it sorts all the updates from courier companies like Amazon and FedEx.

While most of the companies promote “privacy-first” principles on their websites, fine prints of their policies clearly mention these practices and say their users have an option to opt out of personalized features. “You can opt out of having your Commercial Data used in Trends at any time and continue to use the Edison Services with no degradation to your experience,” Edison states in its Privacy Policy.

“To keep our Edison Mail app free, and to protect your privacy by rejecting an advertising-based business model, our company Edison Software measures e-commerce through a technology that automatically recognizes commercial emails and extracts anonymous purchase information from them. Our technology is designed to ignore personal and work email, which does not help us measure market trends,” wrote Edison in a blog post moments after Motherboard’s investigation was published.

Regardless, you should steer clear of third-party email apps such as Edison and CleanFox. These services pretty much take over your inbox in the registration process and at all times, their employees have the right to read and modify your emails. In 2018, a Wall Street Journal report revealed that third-party email companies including Edison had employees read the emails of hundreds of users to craft personalized features.

If you do wish to quit a third-party email app you have been using, the most efficient way is to head over to your email provider’s settings page and revoke the service’s access. On Gmail, you can find these options under Security > Manage Third-Party Access.

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Shubham Agarwal
Shubham Agarwal is a freelance technology journalist from Ahmedabad, India. His work has previously appeared in Firstpost…
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