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

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

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

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