Feeds

Google on Gmail child abuse trawl: We're NOT looking for other crimes

Burglars needn't worry, says search giant

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

Google has said its scanning for child abuse images on Gmail and other services does not extend to searching for evidence of other crimes.

US police recently arrested a registered sex offender after Google notified the authorities about illegal photos of children that were allegedly found in the 41-year-old's Gmail account.

The tip-off gave police in Houston enough to go on to obtain a warrant to arrest the suspect, identified in US reports as John Henry Skillern, and seize his computers and associated kit. Police alleged a subsequent forensic examination revealed a store of child abuse images on a tablet and phone owned by Skillern.

Uncovering criminals who are active in exchanging images of child abuse is an obvious public good, but Google's role in this case raises questions about just how closely the search engine giant is scrutinising our webmail for evidence of criminal activity.

In a statement, Google outlined its use of automated image scanning technology to fight child abuse online, an established practice though one not previously connected to Gmail as such. It added that it is not looking for evidence of more general criminality that might be gleaned from scanning customers' webmail accounts.

Sadly all Internet companies have to deal with child sexual abuse. It’s why Google actively removes illegal imagery from our services – including search and Gmail – and immediately reports any abuse to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which collaborates with law enforcement.

This evidence is regularly used to convict criminals. Each child sexual abuse image is given a unique digital fingerprint which enables our systems to identify those pictures, including in Gmail. It is important to remember that we use this technology to identify child sexual abuse imagery, not email content that could be associated with general criminal activity (for example using email to plot a burglary).

Gmail's terms of service already indicate that the company is analysing Gmail for both targeted ads and security, a category we now know extends to searches for child abuse images and (presumably) other illegal pornography.

Google uses MD5 hashes of known malware samples to scan for malicious code in webmail. It's not clear how it searches for images of child abuse in webmail though something along the same lines is a strong possibility. ®

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.