Google defends scanning Gmail which helped track sex offender

Google has defended itself after helping authorities in arresting a sex offender by scanning his Gmail account, saying the nature of the illegal content warranted its automatic search.

It was reported yesterday that a 41-year-old restaurant worker from Houston was arrested after Google informed authorities at the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children of the presence of child pornography in the man's Gmail account.

Although the email scanning has helped authorities nab the suspect, internet rights activists have been critical of the company's email crawling practices and usually protest on social media. In order to clear its side of things Google has now issued a statement to AFP.

Google has explained that, like all internet companies, it is required to deal with child sexual abuse and have a system in place to identify such content. The Google representative reiterated that the company uses this technology only to identify child abuse and no other forms of criminal activity that may be taking place using its services is monitored. Microsoft also has a similar email scanning policy, which ignores crimes such as IP theft, since the recent backlash from the online community after the arrest of former employee and Windows 8 leaker Alex Kibkalo.

Back in November, Microsoft and Google had committed to developing mechanisms to curb the spread of child pornography and it is a positive outcome of such efforts that the culprit has been brought to justice.

Source: Yahoo News | Image via Google

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36 Comments

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I don't use Google services any more, I will never buy another android phone and I generally disagree with most of their practices, however on this issue I applaud them.

In retrospect there is some poor bastard in Google that has to maintain their kiddie action pics for the scanner. Ugh...

"... the nature of the illegal content warranted its automatic search"
How was it known that there was illegal content in the first place unless the search had already happened? This is an attempt to justify the search because it found something.

First they came for my search, and no one spoke up
Then they came for my glasses, and only a few called me a jackals
Then they came for my Nirvana Nevermind Album Cover and Pedobear raped my G-mail

Seriously pedophiles should be hung by their testicles during football halftime shows

One less Pedophile, isn't anyone forgetting about this much more important thing than that privacy issue? Catching a criminal anyone?

kljs said,
One less Pedophile, isn't anyone forgetting about this much more important thing than that privacy issue? Catching a criminal anyone?

Privacy is much more important than catching cirminals.

I am surprise any of this is admissable in a court of law !

We are certainly on a slipperly slope here.

I don't know why people care so much about their free email service being monitored for illegal activity. If you want privacy, disconnect.

Well, the way that reporting to the NCMEC works is that you submit a report with as much information as you can about the suspect AND send the original images. Then the NCMEC checks the reports and images. If there is something that is CP, then the NCMEC contacts law enforcement who handles everything else.

Providers are required to proactively report child abuse to the NCMEC per act of congress. A large amount of child porn is explicitly under age. (Anything from babies and up.)

Poof said,
Well, the way that reporting to the NCMEC works is that you submit a report with as much information as you can about the suspect AND send the original images. Then the NCMEC checks the reports and images. If there is something that is CP, then the NCMEC contacts law enforcement who handles everything else.

Providers are required to proactively report child abuse to the NCMEC per act of congress. A large amount of child porn is explicitly under age. (Anything from babies and up.)


Did not know that.

What Google claims their system is used for, and what it actually may be reporting and logging, are 2 very different things.

Its not really about the specifics of this case. Its what the system is capable of. If history has taught us anything, its that govt and companies NEVER reveal the truth.

warwagon said,
Are registered sex offenders dumb enough to re-offend over email?

All people do incredibly stupid things when they lack the necessary perspective.

Considering what the outcome is, I've no problem with what Google did either. Doing it to serve me ads? No thanks. Doing it to catch scumbags? Go for your life, Goog.

Does any of this matter? Its already legal for the US government to read any and every email over 180 days without a warrant.

Google used an automated system to scan the emails, someone wasn't going through each individual message. This is one of the occasions where I have no issue with what happened and how.

And for those that do have an issue with it, the solution would appear to be simple: don't use Google, Hotmail or any other service that follows the same practice. Although according to the article above this system is only used for child sex abuse cases, so if you really have a problem with that then I have to wonder what you're trying to hide. Of course, I expect someone to reply to that with the idea that "that's not the point, if it starts there then where does it end?"

Ultimately it's a tricky subject (hence the continuous debate,) but in this case I fully support it.

Nick H. said,
Ultimately it's a tricky subject (hence the continuous debate,) but in this case I fully support it.
My biggest problem with this system is it only goes after people who re-distribute child porn, not those who create it (due to how it works, it uses a database of known content, therefore it cannot detect something as a positive result if it has never seen it before).

That being said, it's still a good thing, but it doesn't do much at the root of the problem.

That's not to mention it may not even be that effective, with the ability to password-protect archives and encrypt things, the only way I can imagine it being effective is if it was sent as a simple attached picture (but having no idea how exactly the system works, I could be completely wrong).

I agree, although the point here isn't that the system is being criticised for being ineffective, it's being criticised because people are concerned for their privacy and haven't bothered to take note of how the system works, what it picks up, and what Google then do with the information.

Nagisan said,
My biggest problem with this system is it only goes after people who re-distribute child porn, not those who create it (due to how it works, it uses a database of known content, therefore it cannot detect something as a positive result if it has never seen it before).

On the other hand, it's a legitimate tactic to fight 'supply' by cutting off 'demand'.

Joshie said,
On the other hand, it's a legitimate tactic to fight 'supply' by cutting off 'demand'.
Or it will have the reverse effect and people will create their own supply instead of relying on the supply of others.

Nagisan said,
Or it will have the reverse effect and people will create their own supply instead of relying on the supply of others.

I'm confused. What solution are you arguing for?

Joshie said,
I'm confused. What solution are you arguing for?
The solution that goes after the source of the problem (that is, the people who abuse children).

IMO the current solution is the equivalent of a crackdown on drug users, with little effect on the drug distributors.

Not that the re-distributors should be ignored and left alone, just that the solution in this article doesn't do much to stop the problem.

And, what if Google incriminated him?. Legal Warrant wasn't created for fun.

Anyways, neither Google nor Microsoft are business created for hunt pedophiles, neither it is clear how Google or Microsoft and profit from it. If it is not then, they are burning shareholders's money.

deadonthefloor said,

I hope you do not sit on the board of any company.
If so, please tell me what company to avoid engaging with.

They used automated system scan. Still, if you do have problem, stop using google services; google, gmail, maps, android....etc.

badb0y said,
.....

Uhm, my problem is with Brony, not Google.
Brony says the company's bottom line is the most important, not protecting our children. That's an abomination I'd like to avoid contributing to, inadvertently or directly.

To the Google point, the only Google I use is my corporate email account and YouTube.

The rest of my services offerings are split amongst the other providers.

deadonthefloor said,

I hope you do not sit on the board of any company.
If so, please tell me what company to avoid engaging with.

Why?

I never tire of people's complete lack of appreciation for privacy and it's direct relationship to their freedom. Falling for the "children" or "terrorism" is still a ridiculous excuse to justify intruding on everyone's data. "Automated", unless the government just decides to go fishing on someone in particular, as they do every single day. The "right" thing to do is encrypt and secure all data storage and they won't have to bother with it, but it's the cozy relationship with government that pushes this forward and the nodding dolts that can't see the big picture help defend it to the end...pathetic. Guess what, the government is far less concerned with a few pedophiles than it is with being able to look into everyone's digital lives at will for any number of other reasons...WTFU.

I find it hard to defend something called 'Brony'. But I think you missed it's point.

You are right. Everyone's TOS is different. But if you read all 275 (whatever) pages of the TOS, you'd know that Google WILL scan your email. Do 99.763% of the people that use Gmail know this? Of course not. They don't read the TOS. They just agree.

I agree with what the bad girl said above. I avoid Google. As much as possible.

Nick H., below, says "I have to wonder what you're trying to hide." That seems valid. But why do I need a reason to have a secret? Because I want something to be private doesn't make me a criminal. In Germany, in the 1930s, and in the United States today, you were/are told if you weren't/aren't doing anything wrong, you had/have nothing to worry about. They were/are lying about that, of course.

In the United States, today, there SHOULD be a certain expectation of privacy in what you say to others, even via a free email service.

Life is very complex. Sometimes you need to defend a child molesters right to privacy. It doesn't make me pro child sex.

It makes me pro freedom.

Hunting pedophiles is part and parcel of a online organisation, ensuring that they limit their carbon footprint, ensuring that criminal activity is not being committed etc is the responsibility of all organisations, these all hurt the bottom line, but a company is not free to simply chase as much money as they can they have responsibilities like people do.

deadonthefloor said,

I hope you do not sit on the board of any company.
If so, please tell me what company to avoid engaging with.

Its Microsoft.