Google Backtracking? Claims to Protect Privacy as AI Snoops Email Data

September 20th, 2023 1:32 PM

Google is asking users to just trust that when a Bard extension reads emails it won’t scrape data.

Google is claiming that its newest AI will read users' emails and not misuse the data but in this case, seeing is believing. The move comes after Google Workspace features previously read users’ emails without their permission in order to train Google AI, according to The Washington Post. Google claims that things will be different this time with its chatbot Bard’s newest extension but after the company’s abysmal history of addressing privacy concerns, its promises are not reassuring.  

Bard product lead Jack Krawczyk told TechCrunch Tuesday that Google is “going to start off with saying when Bard interacts with Gmail, Drive and Docs, it’s only when a user has opted in to say it’s okay.” Users can reportedly later opt out if they change their minds, TechCrunch reported. This is a refreshing change as Google forced users in many countries to opt into having their emails read by Google Workspace features “Smart Compose” and “Help me write” by default. 

“We wanted to make sure that the way that we bring this to users is extremely rooted in the three principles that we have, as it relates to the trust that we build with our with people that use Bard, which is around transparency, choice and control,” Krawczyk added.

The Bard extension can reportedly access and summarize users' emails, and including personal documents,  and has previously used these emails to train AI-powered features, but Krawczyk claims that Gmail and Google Docs will not be used for “reinforcement learning” or training Bard.

“He notes that opting in to use Gmail with Bard isn’t providing Bard with the ability to store your entire Gmail inbox. Instead, on a per-prompt basis,” TechCrunch reported. “[I]t can be directed to find information in your inbox by using its ability to generate a call to Gmail to find something you’ve asked for. In addition to not being used for reinforcement learning, Google says no human reviewers will see the email Bard accesses either.” Krawczyk compared the Bard extension to spam filtering through which “your personal information isn’t read.” 

Google has made its bread and butter by collecting user data from search history to location data. The company has even at times been deceptive in how it goes about data collection. In 2018 The Associated Press (AP) reported that Google tracked location data even when users had turned location tracking off. 

“Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: ‘You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored,’” AP reported. “That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.” The platform just settled a $93 million lawsuit last week for its deceptive location tracking data collection. This comes after it settled a similar lawsuit for $391 million in November 2022.

Are users supposed to just believe that this time Google has learned its lesson and will not store user data without or even against users’ permission? Forgive the plebes if they are not so willing. 

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