Google catches pedophile through his Gmail

raising questions about scope of scanning (external - login to view)

Summary: Google tipped off police that a Gmail user was emailing explicit photos of child abuse to a friend, but the company has not explained just how it found out what the creep was doing.

Google is taking on the role of digital vigilante, flushing out creeps and handing them over to the police to capture. While most people would probably agree with Google’s actions, some will wonder how exactly the company is doing this — and where this will all stop.

In case you missed it, the issue came up in Texas last week after Google altered police that 41-year-old John Henry Skillern was sending explicit photos of a young girl through his Gmail account: “I can’t see that information, I can’t see that photo, but Google can,” detective David Nettles told (external - login to view)Houston news outlet KHOU last week, following the arrest of Skillern, a Denny’s cook and registered sex offender.

According to Nettles, Google detected Skillern sending the photos to a friend and tipped off police, who then obtained a warrant that led them to find child porn images on Skillern’s phone and tablet.

Google has so far declined to comment on the case, or explain how exactly it found out that Skillern was sending the pictures. While the company has long informed Gmail users that it scans their messages in order to show them relevant advertisements, it has never said it scans Gmail for child pornography.

Google’s head lawyer has, however, explained in the past that the company works with agencies and law enforcement to halt the spread of child abuse images:

“We have co-funded the Internet Watch Foundation for the last nine years [...] proactively identifying child abuse images that Google can then remove from our search engine. We also work with Interpol and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the United States, amongst others. And since much of this illegal material is circulated repeatedly – making the crime infinitely worse for the victims – we have built technology that trawls other platforms for known images of child sex abuse. We can then quickly remove them and report their existence to the authorities,” wrote David Drummond (external - login to view)in The Telegraph last year.

This week, the British news outlet speculated that Google keeps a database of hashed images from police databases, and looks for matches in the pictures people store or send on Gmail. In other words, Google appears to be running an automated service to detect child pornography — and not directly snooping on people’s pictures.

And, as Mashable notes (external - login to view), U.S. federal law requires companies, including photo processing shops, to report child pornography if they come across it. This means that Google would have no choice but to turn in Skillern once it knew about the explicit photos.

Still, the moral and legal issues of the Skillern case are not cut and dry. While most people would probably be okay with email scanning to stop the spread of child pornography, there is still the question of how far such scanning should go. Should Google and other internet providers also monitor users’ accounts in order to alert authorities about possible evidence of other crimes like fraud or illegal narcotics?

It’s an interesting issue, and one that might come up in court if Skillern decides to challenge the evidentiary basis of his arrest.

Google catches pedophile through his Gmail, raising questions about scope of scanning — Tech News and Analysis (external - login to view)
I don'tmuch care if they scan gmail looking for kid diddlers but I do care if they do it to send advertizements to me that I don't want to see. That wouls be all their adds.

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