gmail.png
(Credit: Google)

Google is following through for those who have been yearning for more integration between their favorite work apps or programs and their Gmail account, announcing yesterday that third-party developers can create add-ons and support for their apps directly in your message window.

It initially unveiled Gmail Add-ons in a blog post last year, with Gmail product manager Thijs van As writing that users had approached the company complaining that they "have to flip between them and their inbox because email is still 'central command' for task management."

"To solve this problem for users, today we're introducing the developer preview of Gmail Add-ons, a new way for G Suite users to access your app's functionality directly from Gmail in just one tap, no matter the device."

SEE: How to download your private account data from Apple

Gmail's 1.4 billion monthly users will now be able to add buttons and tabs to their Gmail message windows from services like Dropbox, Zoom, DocuSign, Box, Atlassian, and Egnyte, in addition to the many others that have been rolled out since last March.

Google initially announced support for Asana, Trello, DialPad, Intuit QuickBooks, and Wrike, making it easier for users to access these programs directly from Gmail. At first, the apps showed up on a side panel within Gmail, but now apps can build functions directly into your message window. Gmail Add-ons work across platform, so you will find it in the web version as well as both app versions on iOS and Android.

In July, Gmail product manager Aakash Sahney told a crowd at Google Cloud Next 2018 conference that the 45 available Gmail Add-ons had been downloaded 4.5 million times since it was launched and that the company was eager to expand it beyond just a side panel.

With its success and expansion came a heavy dose of controversy. In July, right before the conference, the Wall Street Journal reported that third-party app developers were able to access and read the emails of people who installed certain Gmail Add-ons. Even though companies and app developers have to ask your permission before installing their app into your Gmail, it is not made clear to users that these developers will have access to everything from time stamps, recipient email address and even the message itself.

"Google said a year ago it would stop its computers from scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information to personalize advertisements, saying it wanted users to "remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount," "Wall Street Journal" reporter Douglas MacMillan wrote in July.

"But the internet giant 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. Google does little to police those developers."

Google defended itself by saying it stringently vetted developers before allowing them access and did reject some who asked for permissions that were not applicable to their service. There was no confirmed abuse of this access, and Sahney emphasized security throughout his presentation on the future of Gmail Add-ons.

There has been much debate over whether the ability to read personal emails itself was beyond the purview of these third-party apps, but Google continues to expand access further to a wider base of developers in a variety of fields. While it is common for major platforms to allow third-party developers to create add-ons, abuse is also quite common.

Gmail users suffered a phishing attack last year that spread rapidly through a fake permission request for a Google Doc, and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal has become the most infamous example of the dangers that come with giving third-party developers access to boatloads of personal information. Google now lets you check which apps have access to what parts of your account here.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Takeaways

  1. Gmail is letting apps and services like Dropbox, DocuSign and Box build functions directly into your Gmail compose message window.
  2. Google was criticized in July for giving some third-party developers full access to email timestamps, recipients and even the message itself.

Also see

Jonathan is a Contributing Writer for CNET's Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.