Tech Tip: When Your Mail App Is a Snoop

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Q. Why is the mail app on my Android phone asking for permission to use my contacts and calendars? I don’t feel comfortable giving that access and it feels like an invasion of privacy, but the app doesn’t seem to work otherwise.

A. While it may feel as if you’re granting the mail app permission to root around in your personal business, software from established developers or mail providers is not as completely invasive as it may sound. For example, the mail app may need to use your contacts list if you want to add a fresh address-book entry for a new acquaintance, or to automatically fill in an address in the To: field when you are composing a message. The mail app may also ask permission to use your calendar, say, if it has the option to add invitations sent by email right to your schedule.


Programs from the Google Play store ask permission to use other apps and services on your device. Credit The New York Times

Some mail apps may even request access to other parts of your phone, like your device’s photo library, so it can dip in to attach a photo to an outgoing message. Permission to use the phone’s camera, in case you want to take a new photo to send with a message (or snap a profile photo for your account) may also be requested. If an app seems to want access to every part of your phone, though, be suspicious — especially if it is from a developer you do not know.

If you are uncomfortable using the app for a web-based mail service like Yahoo or Outlook, an alternative is to log into your account through the Chrome app or your preferred mobile browser. Although it may not be as easy or convenient as using the separate mail app to download messages, your mail (and any contacts or calendars that are part of the service you use) stay on online where your mail service has them anyway.

Other types of apps, like those for social networking, may want access to parts of your Google account as well. If you want to see or change the permissions each of the apps on your phone has been granted in Android 6.0 or later, open the Settings icon and select either Application Manager or Apps (depending on your version). Select an app in the list and then tap Permissions. On the Permissions screen, you can turn off access to certain parts of your device, but keep in mind that the app may not function properly.

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