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Do Google Employees Read Your Emails? The Answer May Be Surprising

Alessio enjoys writing about cell phones, apps, and other technology and the way they can help making everyday life easier.

Gmail webmail loaded on an iPad device.

Gmail webmail loaded on an iPad device.

Google is a leading company providing online services. Their most known product is the search engine millions of people use everyday in order to look up for information on the internet. Another very popular Google product is Gmail, a powerful email service providing robust anti-spam filter and many advanced features for free.

Gmail is one of the most used free email services in the world. Still, not many people enjoy using it. This article is going to analyze why some people do not like Gmail and if there’s any reason for them to stop using the service.

Privacy Concerns When Using Gmail

Some people who are concerned about their privacy worry about the eventual ability for Google employees to look into their Gmail account and read their emails. This concern is the reason why some of those who are particularly privacy-obsessed tend to avoid using Gmail.

Is there any reason to really avoid using Gmail because of the risk of having someone reading personal emails?

Why Would an Employee Target Your Account?

Before going deep into how much one should worry about the eventuality a Google employee may be able to look into their email account, there is a preliminary question to analyze: should one be really worried about someone looking into their email account? Is there any reason why one out of millions email accounts should be taken in consideration and spied on?

Let's face it: before analyzing the technical ability for Google employees to read through emails, the first aspect to analyze is purely pragmatic. Nobody out there is interested at looking into a random email account just because they are bored and have nothing to do other than spying random users' emails.

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Can Google Employees Read Personal Emails?

After having remembered the already low chance someone working at Google is interested at that 'happy birthday' email received yesterday from the cousin in Arizona, then the technical aspect should be analyzed. If one has to be strictly technical, unless one manages to always delete messages after having read them (and still this does not always mean they are totally canceled from Google servers), all emails are at the fact stored in a machine that other people can access, even by just looking into the database. In a purely technical way, someone having the highest technical tasks involving access to the database and the physical machine can in theory access the database. Moreover, Google has many internal tools accessible through a corporate intranet and it is not excluded that, among all these tools and admin panels, there is also something allowing specific employees to access emails. Still, technical explanations are absolutely vague and not enough to explain the truth, which at the fact poses severe limitations to the ability for Google employees to watch over Gmail messages over their users, if one considers two important aspects:

  • Privacy regulations: there is a privacy policy and there are regulations that are meant to prevent illicit access to personal data without a specific need and Google is not exempt from this. A specific need for accessing a personal email into a Gmail account may be an investigation over serious crimes: in this case, maybe Google's ability to access personal emails should be the latest concern of a cyber-criminal.
  • Internal audits: Google is a big company where different teams work at. Moreover, it is a company dealing with several amounts of user data and so, also with the potential risk of abuse of internal tools accessible by employees. This means that it is more than plausible that every activity done by an employee when it comes to access sensible user data (like Gmail messages) is logged and audited by a security team. Maybe, certain operations cannot even be done by a single employee but need to be approved by other security teams, so that one may not even able to look into someone's email account without filing a motivated requested to be approved by other teams. The most important thing to understand is that Google internal tools are various and all the employees have different privileges whose misuse may lead to being fired from the company. There are no employees with unlimited powers and there is not certainly a super admin panel where a single person can control all the Google ecosystem like it may happen on a small website made with WordPress: there are instead several tools located in different internal subdomains, accessible by specific team whose actions are then audited by other teams again. Some actions may not even perform instantaneously, but may require approval by other employees too. Some actual and former Google employees have described this internal auditing process in the past in some answers posted on Quora and linked below.
Google search engine loaded on an iPad.

Google search engine loaded on an iPad.

Conclusions

No one at Google is reading private messages of a random user: firstly, because it is plausible that it is very hard to access Gmail messages of someone and read them due to the strict control over privileges of access to sensitive user data of each employee. Secondly, because it may be very difficult (and maybe unrealistic too) that someone wants to risk being fired just because that 'happy birthday' email received last week is too intriguing to read for them. Of course, everything is possible: stopping to use Gmail because of the fear of being spied by someone working at Google is not different than stopping to go to the supermarket because of the fear someone may plan a terrorist attack at that place or avoiding to drive a car because of the fear of an accident (car accidents that are maybe more frequent than a Google employee supposedly looking for personal emails of a random person in the globe).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Alessio Ganci

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