Google finds child porn in man’s Gmail, helps police issue an arrest while raising privacy concerns

Demo_arrest_handcuffed

As avid users of just about all of Google services, we’ve known for quite sometime of Google’s unique algorithms that scan our Gmail inboxes, pulling out non-identifiable keywords to feed us with targeted ads or enabling contextually based information to display on Google Now (hotel reservations for instance). That’s nothing new.

But it’s the way Google went about helping detectives find and arrest a known sex offender over the child-pornography stored in his Gmail account is raising new concerns over privacy. While emailing pornographic image of a young girl, Henry Skillern (41) was flagged by Google who — upon cooperation with 18 US Code 2252a requiring companies to report crimes of this nature when discovered — tipped off the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children. From there, the police were contacted and it was all downhill from there.

Apparently many news outlets are confused exactly how Google was able to find the offending images and while, yes, we can all agree child pornography is one of the more detestable things we as a human race have to deal with, some are uncomfortable with the thought of a team of Google employees looking through each and every one of our emails to find images that may or may not be illegal. Needless to say, that would be a lot of emails.

But the arrest is nothing more than a reminder of the $2 million Google poured into the Child Protection Technology Fund. As discussed in their blog post from last year, Google has long made clear their stance on child exploitation and vowed to work with law enforcement and charities to rid the internet of these offensive images once and for all. The post also talks about the specific ways Google is able to combat child sexual abuse images from circulating the net, using a “hashing” technology that effectively tags these images so they can later be located whenever they are found.

Of course, Google left out the part where they were also scanning our Gmail inbox for anything matching up with their extensive cross-industry child porn database, but we’d assume that was a given. That’s also the reason some are feeling like their privacy has now been “compromised.”

As you can see, there’s a lot of confusion on the issue and we’re curious to hear where some of you may stand. In the fight to take down criminals wherever the may be hiding, is Google in the right? Or should there be a greater level of transparency and/or privacy when it comes to how we store our data online — no matter how illegal?

[KHOU]

Continue reading:




  • O’s Fan91

    I have no problem with this whatsoever. Just my opinion though.

  • Mackster248

    No problem with this. Could I have stuff to hide from friends and family in my e-mail accounts? Maybe.

    But I definitely have nothing to hide from law reinforcements, etc. So, s’all good with me Google.

    • Haggie

      So, if the police showed up at your house at 2am tomorrow morning without a warrant, you would let them search it?

      If you were driving home from work tonight, you would let an office pull you over and search your person and car without probably cause?

      Because you have nothing to hide?

      • Alex

        I am not sure on whole email privacy thing so lets make that clear.
        But in response to your point Haggie, having my email searched requires no time on my part. It can be done without me and I don’t really care if it is done. But yes it would be frustrating to get pulled over and searched with no cause because that takes time out of my day.

        Just a thought.

      • angelo

        If you’re not doing anything illegal you should have nothing to hide. If everyone is so worried about their privacy stop using the internet or cell phone.

        • Patrick Smithopolis

          Every person in America is entitled to their Fourth Amendment rights. If you want voluntarily give up rights then let police search your home and possessions without a warrant but it’ll be a cold day in hell before let the police do that to me.

          • http://www.scottcolbert.com/ ScottColbert

            No worries, you’ll be too busy shitting your pants to say no.

          • rstat1

            It does often get cold in Hell. Every year around October or November, until May or so.

        • thajack

          The beauty of the Fourth Amendment is that you don’t actually have to give a crap about your privacy for it to be protected.

          That being said, the Fourth Amendment does not protect you from Google searching your email without your permission. The protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights protect you from actions by the government.

      • renGek

        If google said they were letting me live in their house without paying rent but expect that they will anonymously mine what I eat, do, who I have over and the # of times I do #2 each week but if I commit a serious crine the police will come, I would still move in.

        Difference here is that nobody is kicking down my apt in the middle of the night for a scan of my gmail.

      • sdrawkcab25

        Google is providing you with free room and board for data, don’t like them going through your stuff, build/use your own house…

      • Mackster248

        Huh…? All I said is I didn’t give a shit if Google was scanning my e-mails for illegal stuff like child porn. Who said anything about the other crap you talked about?

      • Carl Rood

        Problem is, this isn’t you’re house. It’s Google’s and they let you live there for free. As owners, they can let the police in if they choose.

      • Helgaiden

        Your statement is over extreme. Let’s put what you said into the perspective of this article:

        Would you let an officer look in your mailbox at home at 2am?

        Would you let an officer knock on your door and ask you if he can search your mailbox without probable cause?

        There.

        Comparing an email inbox to your entire home is comparing apples to oranges. Next time use the proper comparison.

    • thajack

      I have several friends who are successful attorneys and a couple of friends in law enforcement. There are two things that they all always agree on:

      1) Never talk to the police
      2) Never consent to a search of anything by the police

      • Mackster248

        I’d agree with that. Not caring whether Google scans my e-mails is completely different from that though.

        • thajack

          That is true. If you’re fine with Google scanning your email, then so be it. I don’t mind them scanning mine either, as I find that the information that it sends over to Google Now is quite useful.

          I would not like the idea of *people* at Google reading the messages, but if it’s just their automated algorithms, I’ve not had a problem with that in the past.. and still don’t, honestly.

          I just hope that they would be very careful to not accuse someone of harboring child pornography falsely by mistake.

  • All-CIA-Duh

    You have all been screwgled!

  • meyerweb

    What else are they going to scan for and share with law-enforcement, though? Maybe it’s time to start encrypting all our communications. I’m not sure having Google searching through my data is any less bad than having the police searching through my data.

  • Haggie

    I must have missed the part of the Bill of Rights where it said “except for when these rights endanger children”

    • http://www.scottcolbert.com/ ScottColbert

      Hmm where is the internet mentioned at all?

      • rstat1

        I’d imagine your internet presence would fall under either the “papers” or “effects” part of the ammendment.

        • Larry Garfield

          Any rational person would agree. The courts, however, have frequently shown themselves to not be rational on that point.

        • Carl Rood

          Yes, but here there’s a murkier definition of ownership. This is all on Google’s property. They can choose to let the police in.

    • thajack

      The Fourth Amendment does extend to the Internet and email. The point many are missing, though, is that the Fourth Amendment protects you from actions by the government, not by a private individual or a company like Google.

  • J Cav the Great

    No issue here.. If your going to handle child porn…use yahoo….

  • THenefield

    Just as we sacrifice privacy for the sake of national security, I would gladly do the same to combat these nasty perverted people that post inappropriate images of children. To jail (and hell) with them all.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

      We’re not supposed to sacrifice privacy for the sake of national security though.

  • roger’d

    I don’t oppose this approach for child porn … but what about broadening it for other things? Could this grow into a more all-encompassing type of enforcement to the point of a big brother scenario? That would be my concern.

    • renGek

      What makes you think this isn’t already being done by every email provider or the nsa. It’s just the nature of what we use in a connected environment.

  • Zomby2D

    It’s fun for some to bash on Google for doing what they’re required to do by law. Their servers are programmed to recognize those pics and the flag came from someone’s mailbox this time. Big deal.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

      They only have to notify the police if an employee sees an image. There is nothing in that law that requires them to actively look for child porn. I fall under the same law at my job.

      • Caezar07

        Right, Google isn’t required to scan images.

  • blest

    I mean I have nothing to hide but I just don’t like the idea of them scanning through my shit.

  • Champion of the Internets

    Ever since I added a gmail account to my gnote 3, my gnote has been lagging. Anyone can help? In the meantime I’m using an iPhone 5s and I am like so happy now, no lag, no malware, no crâp apps – this is iOS.

    • Barry D.

      At least you already have a magnifying glass.

      • Durin123

        He’s gonna need it for that child-sized phone of his. Typing on it is similar to trying to put a thread into the eye of a needle.

    • rstat1

      If any platform was gonna have crap apps it’d be iOS, given the number of idiots using that platform :P

    • Dan

      pathetic, don’t have anything else better to do with your time?

  • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

    I’m really hoping the mail was flagged because of a file name, and not from image recognition.

  • Brandon Franklin

    This is nothing! Just wait til google is disrupted by another search engine and are on their way to becoming the next myspace. Will they die a nice quite death or will they become disgruntled and givesell our info to whomever whether they want to do harm or not? I don’t trust google with any of my info. I must be extremely important to them to cuz every time I open my tablet and check battery usage (which is every time) theres at least 10 google appsproccesses doing all kinds of things even if I haven’t touched it and shut down all processes before turning it off! Now I just shut wi fi off when I’m done but its extremely creepy. I don’t know how you google kids tolerate it on your phones.

    • http://www.scottcolbert.com/ ScottColbert

      If you think Apple, MS, and any other company don’t do the same, you’re woefully naive.

  • andrew

    This worries me. Especially with all of the free cloud services that are being provided nothing is private anymore and many people are unknowingly giving up their own privacy

  • trekla

    You should probably explain that the only thing they are doing is matching hashdata, they aren’t actually using software like image recognition, that people are afraid of, and Google aren’t the only one doing it. It is actually Microsoft that started this initiative, and you will probably have a hard time finding an email client that doesn’t do a scan of your mail in some way.

  • Toasted_Cracker

    It’s a slippery slope.

  • http://www.facebook.com/madmikeX3 Michael Parks

    So are they searching my Google drive to? I have backups of a few things in there.

    • Jake Williams

      Arrest this man.

  • KapteinStein

    I agree with Captain America in “Winter Soldier”! Hydra is upon us!

  • NardVa

    You want privacy don’t use email. They are mining for child porn today, but it will be something else tomorrow.

    • Bobby Phoenix

      Agree 100%. I’d also add if you don’t do anything you know you shouldn’t you shouldn’t care if you’re scanned. We all know (should?) right from wrong. Right?

      • IVHorseMen

        100% people.

        • IVHorseMen

          Agreed* people are crazy

  • bigbee

    Once this enters the realm of child exploitation, in my view you can throw out any and all privacy concerns. Ending these heinous acts is far too important. Keep in mind that constitutional rights don’t apply in this case, because Google is a private entity, not the government. Also, note that we limit constitutional rights in all sorts of ways in order to have a functioning society; none are absolute.

  • guitarist5122

    Nothing to worry about here unless you are guilty of something illegal. If Google happens to pick up illegal activity while doing its ad targeting scans, then cool. It’s not like they going to broadcast your sexy pics, that you are sending to your mistress, to the world. They don’t care and neither does anyone else. I say good on Google for taking one more perv off the streets!

  • Lee McLaurin

    “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

    • Fred Marshall

      I would not classify putting a child seeking sex offender in jail a “temporary safety”.

    • Larry Garfield

      Just so you’re aware, that quote is generally taken HORRIBLY out of context. In the context of Franklin’s original letter, the freedom he was talking about was the freedom of a democratic government to levy taxes. No, really:

      http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/07/what-ben-franklin-really-said/

      • Lee McLaurin

        Where is it stated that if the words fit you have to use the exact same context? The original context doesn’t negate the meaning that they give today.

        • Larry Garfield

          Because invoking it by the speaker’s name is an “appeal to authority”, ie, if Ben Franklin said it then it carries more weight. However, what Franklin actually said was, effectively, “we cannot let some rich family opt out of taxes, even if they do loan us a private army instead.”

          That has, um, nothing to do at all with questions of privacy or government regulation, which is where that quite is usually recycled. Mind you, I’m all for privacy. But reusing the quote in that way turns it into an “appeal to authority” logical fallacy (ie, namedropping someone who is not a topical and contextual expert). We can fight for privacy without resorting to logical fallacies.

          • Durin123

            Your perpetrating a logical fallacy too – being arrogant and condescending because you think you’re more intelligent than everyone else.

          • Larry Garfield

            Actually “arrogant and condescending” isn’t a logical fallacy. It may be rude, but it’s not a logical fallacy.

            Your comment, however, is the logical fallacy “ad hominem attack”, vis, attacking the speaker rather the point being made. Thanks for playing.

      • Durin123

        So what you’re saying is… what? The quote can only be applied to the situation it was originally uttered in? How enlightened of you.

        • Lee McLaurin

          That’s what he thinks. If every quote could only be used in the exact same situation that it was originally used, we wouldn’t use them.

  • Brandon Franklin

    Wow with all these “good Samaritans” around google and the NSA should just have an opt in for these people to just give up their privacy and be monitored constantly so authorities can already be cerrtain they aren’t involved any any crime and if they do happen to cause a crime they can be aprehended immediately. I don’t mind if good honest people want to give up their privacy. In fact I would love to see how it turns out for them.

  • TheMovement

    I am fine with this as long as Google is only doing this to catch those who break the law – if the breaking of that law is enraging to the public. Child Porn? Enrages the normal person. Downloading Ace Ventura Pet Detective? Normal person doesn’t give a shit. World’s not black and white. Thank God for that.

  • np6s4x

    my thought is when using a free service i shouldn’t expect privacy. If i want privacy when it comes to email i’ll use my own website and email software, rather then handing it off to some other company.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

      Privacy and email should never be used in the same sentence. Ever.

  • nostalgicgamerz

    One day they will flag Child Porn..

    Then they will flag those who disagree with the President.

    Truly the era of Mirror’s Edge is scarily upon us.

    • No_Nickname90

      If Google goes corrupt the world will end. I actually don’t know how the future will for tell.

  • BronzeLincolns

    mostly not my problem as i’m not doing stuff i’m not supposed to in secret.

    as long as my bank account info, SSN, etc, aren’t being pilfered i’m good.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

      Not yet anyway.

  • Pkmmte

    What about for those who are still under age and have girlfriends sending “nudes” to our email? That seems to be a trend lately.

    • https://sites.google.com/site/barry99705/ barry99705

      Technically it’s still child porn.

      • No_Nickname90

        This is true. I hope OP knows that sending images of yourself while you’re underage constitutes as child porn on a literal level.

    • http://www.techmantis.net/ Minja Miketa

      Won’t affect you. They are checking for images in their database previously flagged as child porn. Don’t worry you and your girlfriend are safe.

  • Larry Garfield

    There is absolutely zero technological difference between:

    * analyze email stream; flag “child porn”
    * analyze email stream; flag “did something legal but embarrassing”
    * analyze email stream; flag “disagreed with the government”
    * analyze email stream; flag “disagreed with the company”

    If you don’t think such technology will be used for all four of those types of analysis, you’re pathetically naive.

  • mattj78

    I’m not sure what the surprise is here. We all know Google scans our emails and we know it identifies items in our photos – that’s how we can ask it to show us our pictures from when we went to Paris, or pictures of Lions from that time we went to the Zoo or of birthday cakes. It’s not a stretch to think Google is using that same technology to find pictures of Child abuse.

    • uniquename72

      That’s not how they find child abuse images. Other articles have defined the method more clearly: Known abuse images are hashed, and Google has a big database of abuse image hashes that it checks against images anywhere on its servers (web crawl, gmail, docs, whatever).

      IOW, you’re actually safer producing your own child porn and keeping that in your Google account than you are downloading other people’s porn and keeping that.

  • dhinged

    Careful sending pictures of your kids in the bathtub or at the beach…

    • Gordon Wainwright

      apparently what they did here would not have flagged such an image … they compared a hash of the image to the hash of an image previously identified as child porn … still good advice, just not terribly relevant to this issue.

  • KiwiBri

    So many douchbags here

    • Durin123

      Sooner or later someone will thinks any given person is a douchebag. Welcome to planet Earth.

  • Lennatron

    I can’t even believe Google did this; it just isn’t right.

    • No_Nickname90

      Utilitarianism says it was right. It was for the greater good.

      I’m sorry, I’ve been posting about this throughout this messaging thread. I just finished an ethics class, so ethics is fresh in my head. After taking that course it really makes you think “What is right and what is wrong?”

      I’m sorry for the bother.

  • MK2

    Bit of a slippery slope for sure, but when it comes down to it, in this case, the ends justify the means.

    • Gordon Wainwright

      by that logic … instead of simple executing death row inmates we should harvest all their healthy organs for transplantation.

      In a truly ethical society the ends can never justify the means.

      • Durin123

        A truly ethical society cannot exist for very long because it would be annihilated by another society that wants what it has and doesn’t share it’s sense of ethics.

        • Gordon Wainwright

          That rather depends on what that ethical sense dictates, doesn’t it ?

          • Durin123

            That reply makes so little sense it should have made the galaxy implode. Also, aren’t we going a little overboard with the “harvesting organs from death row inmates” comment? I think you’re starting to see serial killers/mutilators where none exist.

          • No_Nickname90

            Actually their post makes perfect sense. There are different views of ethics. I just finished an ethics class and learned a lot. It had my head hurting. One view states that no matter what, you cannot lie. Another view allows for certain actions as long as that actions causes a greater good. So if you must lie, then you do it.

            As you can see, those two views conflict with each other. In order to have a truly ethical world, you must choose an ethical point of view.

            Good luck with that.

      • No_Nickname90

        Niccolo Machiavelli – He believes the final results must be considered. I just finished an ethics class. LoL!! It depends on your ethical view.

        There is one ethical view by Immanuel Kant, that you should never lie, regardless. So if a killer is looking for your friend, you must tell the truth, no matter what. It would be ethically wrong to lie to the killer.

        As you can see, ethics is way to insane to discuss in this thread. LoL!!

  • frhow

    Its not right, but I am glad Google did this. People you have to realize that when you are on the internet it is no such thing a being private. You know the risk when you open up your browser that what you do can be seen by others.

  • Carl Rood

    One thing to keep in mind. These emails are using Google’s servers, which they allow us to use for free. They own it, not us, and can legitimately set any terms they please.

    • indio7777

      That is a ridiculous line of logic. You don’t own your kid’s school…can they treat him any way they want?

  • Gordon Wainwright

    I’m not sure what they did here actually violated his privacy … but that’s pretty much a semantic argument, How do you define “privacy” in the digital age ?

  • bitflung

    folks don’t seem to understand how hash functions work.
    as long as google only compares hashes against a known (and constrained) set of “evidence” files, no privacy is being violated here.

    in fact, if the scumbag had altered the images even just a little bit (perhaps chaging the color of the first fefw pixels) then the hash based identification system would not have worked and no one would know he had child porn.

    that’s the reason this doesn’t violate your privacy – no one knows what you’ve got in your email unless what you’ve got is PRECISELY THE SAME as something else that it can be compared to.

    the system could improve beyond hashes (e.g. reverse image serach type techniques) but that is far from useful for this purpose today.

    go back to sleep people, the big internet scare you’re looking for is elsewhere and there is no fight to be had today.

    • Durin123

      Hash functions work in a similar manner to hashtags: they make your life miserable and make you realise how much you hate inconsiderate, ignorant people.

    • Andy H

      I was torn about this until I read the part about that they found it simply by comparing hashes. Now it’s all good.

  • Sommer Tabatsali

    Good on you Google/Gmail, disclose those sick fucks, let’s name them and shame them.

  • platus

    Google = Police?

  • Benecya Jackson

    We’re all criminals to some degree. I know that we offer up personal information to strangers too often, so to feel betrayed by google would be the pot calling the kettle black. Privacy is a right afforded to every American, and I understand why email snooping makes people uncomfortable, but knowing child victims could continue to be abused at the hands of one of your email users doesn’t sound like an easy pill to swallow. Those images were on the internet to be shared with other people, doesn’t that child deserve privacy? Every click, every download of those files is an innocent kid being victimized over and over again-Google did the right thing in the situation. They alerted an organization that specializes in identifying underage victims in videotaped sex crimes. Google didn’t snitch, just tried to get this kid the help they desperately need and protect them from any future exploitation. If anyone is mandated, obligated, or guilted into reporting this somewhere down the line, then police might get involved. Hope for the sake of the victim and others that could be next , that law enforcement does get involved. Some pretadors never touch a child, some leave dozens of disturbed pshches in their wake, but to supply video of a child engaging in s sex act or in an adult situation, its a crime and an injustice. No amount of jailing will put back those innocent young hearts back together after that. Google saved lives. STFU about your privacy , no one cares you do coke off your keyboard or dresses up like the mcburgalar. Do you! But if doing you also consists of doing anything inappropriate with an underage individual, Then eat shit and die.