Under fire over reports that third-party apps can read Gmail messages of users who have signed up for email-based services, Google clarified on Wednesday the company was continuously vetting developers and their apps “that integrate with Gmail before we open them for general access”.

A Wall Street Journal report had claimed that the search giant was allowing third-party app developers to scan through the Gmail accounts of many of its users.

Google “continues to let hundreds of outside software developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools”, the report said.

According to Google, it gives “both enterprise admins and individual consumers transparency and control over how their data is used”.

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“We make it possible for applications from other developers to integrate with Gmail — like email clients, trip planners and customer relationship management (CRM) systems — so that you have options around how you access and use your email,” Suzanne Frey, Director, Security, Trust and Privacy, Google Cloud, said in a blog post.

Before a published and non-Google app can access a user’s Gmail messages, the post said, “it goes through a multi-step review process”.

The review process includes “automated and manual review of the developer, assessment of the app’s privacy policy and homepage to ensure it is a legitimate app, and in-app testing to ensure the app works as it says it does”.

Frey noted that the company reviewed non-Google applications to make sure they continued to meet its policies, and even suspended them on knowing they did not.

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“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.

“We strongly encourage you to review the permissions screen before granting access to any non-Google application,” said the post.

Google claims that Gmail has safety features such as protections that allow it to prevent more than 99.9 per cent of spam and phishing emails from reaching the inbox.

“We do not process email content to serve ads, and we are not compensated by developers for API access. Gmail’s primary business model is to sell our paid email service to organisations as a part of G Suite,” said the blog post.

The practice of automatic processing has caused some to speculate mistakenly that Google “reads” your emails.

“To be absolutely clear: no one at Google reads your Gmail, except in very specific cases where you ask us to and give consent, or where we need to for security purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse,” Frey noted.

Gmail has nearly 1.4 billion users globally — more users than the next 25 largest email providers combined.

In 2017, Google had said its computers will soon stop reading the emails of its Gmail users to personalise their ads.

(With agency inputs)