Data, email
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  • Several email apps scrape the contents of people's inboxes and sell that data to finance and e-commerce companies, according to a new Motherboard report.
  • The apps are primarily interested in tracking "transaction data," gleaning information from receipts and shipping emails that show people's consumer behaviour.
  • The apps then sell that data to third-party companies that use the information to make investment decisions.
  • Email apps scraping peoples' inboxes for profit include Edison, Cleanfox, and Slice.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Several email productivity apps, popular for offering people tools to organise their inbox, are scanning the content of users' emails and selling that data to clients for profit, according to a new report by Motherboard's Joseph Cox.

The apps, whose data-selling practices Motherboard learned about from confidential documents, include Edison, Cleanfox, and Slice.

Edison's website says it "accesses and processes" people's emails, and Cleanfox and Slice offer similar disclaimers. More specifically, the companies scan users' inboxes for emails that include receipts or shipping notifications to track the items users are purchasing and how much they're spending.

The apps then sell anonymised or pseudonymised versions of that information to clients that are interested in consumer trends, like finance and e-commerce companies.

An Edison spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider that it uses software that "automatically recognises commercial emails and extracts purchase information from them," ignoring "personal and work email."

A spokesperson for Rakuten, the company that owns Slice, told Business Insider that the company tells its users that it is collecting their data for market research and that the company values "the protection of consumer privacy."

In an email to Business Insider, Foxintelligence CEO Edouard Nattée emphasised that the company discloses to new users that it uses anonymised data from "transactional emails."

"What we do is precisely the opposite of what companies like Facebook or Google are doing. We are building a model where the users get a free product and still, the user doesn't become the product," Nattée said.

While each of the three companies highlighted that the data being collected is anonymised or pseudonymised, multiple recent studies by computer science researchers have called the notion of anonymised data into question - in most cases, researchers found that anonymous data stolen in breaches could be easily tied back to specific people with relatively high certainty.

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