Google Doesn’t Watch for Most Criminal Activity in Your Email, Just Child Porn

By: Josh Wolford - August 5, 2014

Feel free to sell someone some drugs or plan a burglary (Google’s own words) with your Gmail – Google isn’t looking for that kind of criminal activity. Yes, Google is scanning your email, but it’s only to spot child porn (and serve you ads, of course).

You probably heard that a Texas man was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography after Google (Google’s robots, more specifically) detected the images in the man’s Gmail. He was attempting to email the images to another user. When Google identified the images, they sent a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, who then notified the police. That led to a search warrant, which unearthed child porn on the man’s various devices.

Naturally, this news elicited mixed reactions. First off, awesome – a child pornographer was caught. But also, privacy? Google’s looking at all of my email images?

Well, of course they are. They’re not trying to hide it.

“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

That’s in Google’s TOS. They also use those automated systems to scan for illegal child porn images, and this isn’t the first time that they’ve tipped off authorities.

But if you are worried about all the other kinds of illegal activity laid out in your emails – Google says don’t be.

Here’s my favorite company response in recent memory:

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 abuse to NCMEC [The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children]. 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 only use this technology to identify child sexual abuse imagery, not other email content that could be associated with criminal activity (for example using email to plot a burglary).

You know, like burglary.

While some extreme privacy hawks may see no circumstance where email snooping, even if only by robots, is acceptable – I think the vast majority of reasonable people can get behind Google’s initiative to find child pornographers and help put them in jail.

Image via Google

Josh Wolford

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

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  • Rudi Kelle

    Good. As far as sickness goes, kiddi-porn is the sickest. I’m amazed and pleased that Goog puts kiddies above rich peoples money for a change – keep it up .

  • http://www.2bubbleblog.com 2BubbleBlog

    First, if post office or UPS or any companies of this kind was opening your mail or package without a court order it would be a criminal offense in most countries, though, Google think it has the right to scan your emails (scanning isn’t opening I’m sure they would say). It says for child porn but I’ve heard few months ago than a SEO guy was clashed by Google because he was using Gmail to do link exchanges and stuff like that (like top level scale, not wannabe SEO). So come on, Google is so big it just believes it is GOD and act like it.

    If it was CIA or FBI doing it, ok, you may not like it, but they got better reasons to do it…

  • Scales

    Check to make sure your spam isn’t funding Yahoo, Bing, etc.. Only Google $$$ spam is going to get thru.