KEY POINTS

  • A new report reveals some popular Mac and iOS email apps are violating users' privacy without users' knowledge
  • Edison, Cleanfox, and Slice are named by the report as email apps selling users' data to their clients
  • These same apps promised users that they are after users' privacy

The same team that reported the disappointing practice of a free antivirus software is back once again. Vice's Motherboard this time is exposing several iOS and Mac apps that scrape and sell users' data. Surprisingly, these email apps are popular among users and even promote the 'privacy-first' policy.

What Are These Email Apps?

A new report by Motherboard's Joseph Cox reveals that several email productivity apps used to organize users' inboxes are not only scanning inboxes but also selling users' data to clients for profit. Motherboard learned about this practice through a set of confidential documents. The report names Rakuten's Slice, Edison Mail, and Foxintelligence's Cleanfox as apps, which do this kind of practice that users are not aware of.

These Mac and iOS email apps scan users' inboxes for emails that contain receipts, shipping details, or documents that bear items users purchased and the amount they spend, the report reveals. After collecting these data, the apps sell 'pseudonymized’ and anonymized versions of these data to their clients. These clients are usually e-commerce and finance companies that are interested in consumer trends and behavior.

Apple Store The Apple Store app now supports voice search. Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

Email Apps' Respond

The Edison email app has millions of users all over the world and is even recognized as one of the top productivity apps on the Apple App Store. The company recently responded to this report through a blog post. It says that "Edison puts privacy first in everything we do as a company, and that includes making our users aware of how we use their data in our products. 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."

In 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Edison employees are allowed to read the emails of the app users to improve the feature of the app called the smart reply. Foxintelligence Chief Operating Officer Florian Cleyet-Merle vehemently denied the allegations of the report. In her statement to Daily Mail, the executive said that "we do not sell the personal data of our users' mailboxes to third parties or to anyone."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Rakuten, Slice's parent company, said that it informs its users that the app is collecting their data that would be used in the market research. Rakuten values the protection of consumer privacy, the spokesperson told Business Insider.