Feeds

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

Burglars needn't worry, says search giant

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?
Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here
Spies, avert eyes! Tim Berners-Lee demands a UK digital bill of rights
Lobbies tetchy MPs 'to end indiscriminate online surveillance'
How the FLAC do I tell MP3s from lossless audio?
Can you hear the difference? Can anyone?
Google hits back at 'Dear Rupert' over search dominance claims
Choc Factory sniffs: 'We're not pirate-lovers - also, you publish The Sun'
EU to accuse Ireland of giving Apple an overly peachy tax deal – report
Probe expected to say single-digit rate was unlawful
Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'
There's morality and then there's economics ...
While you queued for an iPhone 6, Apple's Cook sold shares worth $35m
Right before the stock took a 3.8% dive amid bent and broken mobe drama
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.