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Google confirms Gmail child porn trawl

Google confirms Gmail child porn trawl

Google has confirmed that it has a system in place which monitors Gmail and Google Drive traffic for child porn images, then reports its findings to law enforcement agencies.

Google has confirmed that it routinely scans email messages on its Gmail service for child pornography, following its reporting of one of its users to Texas police last week.

Anyone who has actually read Google's multi-page licence agreement for its free Gmail webmail service will be aware that the company reserves the right to scan incoming and outgoing messages using custom-designed algorithms. These algorithms are used, in the main, to build a profile of a given user's interests which then drives context-sensitive advertising on Gmail and other Google-linked sites. Received emails about your upcoming holiday? Expect adverts for travel insurance and discount sun-cream. Subscribe to a gaming mailing list? Adverts about upcoming titles and events will be your reward.

The system falls neatly into the old adage that if a service is free you're not the customer but the product being sold - in this case, to advertisers. Some refuse to use Google's services, seeing the system as a breach of privacy, while others are fully aware of the system but trust in the company's claims that the automated analysis engine never judges and never makes email contents available to humans.

Except, it appears, in the execution of a particular type of crime: child pornography. Google recently provided information to Texas police that led to an arrest after its automated analysis system spotted pornographic images of children in the man's Gmail inbox. The company has confirmed to AFP that the image was found by an automated hash-matching system it originally developed for blocking child porn from its search results but has recently expanded to scanning content on its Gmail and Google Drive platforms.

'Each child sexual abuse image is given a unique digital fingerprint which enables our systems to identify those pictures, including in Gmail,' the spokesperson told the newswire. '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.'

The man at the centre of the case, John Henry Skillern, has been arrested on charges of possession of and promotion of child pornography, and is presently being held in custody on a $200,000 bond.

19 Comments

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Pete J 5th August 2014, 13:48 Quote
I'll probably be in the minority here, but I'm okay with this.

Catching those kind of scum is worth almost any measure in my book.
Phil Rhodes 5th August 2014, 13:51 Quote
One hopes they'll subject the hits to an eyeball sanity check before shipping the database off to the rozzers, though. Otherwise, this sort of thing can become an appalling no-smoke-without-fire automatic life wrecking machine.

P
azazel1024 5th August 2014, 15:35 Quote
The database is built by poor humans who get paid terribly, with little benefits and generally burn out after about a year or so of work. I forget who, maybe Ars Technica, had an article about it a year or two ago. Basically Google (and a couple of the other search engines) hire on temp works who's job it is is to sit around and watch youtube videos, check images, etc for things like snuff videos, murder videos, child porn, etc. Then remove them and/or catalog stuff so it'll be entered in the database for known child porn.

Understandably most of the workers break down and can't do it after awhile. Of course Google doesn't really do things like provide psychological counciling and stuff to the best of my knowledge. Its a "thanks for doing the job. Enjoy the many psychosis and PTSD your probably just acquired after assaulting your eyeballs for 8hrs a day for the last many months".

As for Google scanning email, it is rather disturbing to me. Yeah, we need to stop child porn from happening and just like any other crimes, we need to stop it/catch the guys. However, "for the children" is an oft used reason to do things that completely violate people's civil liberties. That and "terrorism". If this couldn't/wouldn't be a slippery slope, yeah, I'd be okay with it, but I have a hard time believing that it won't be in some way.

If Google was scanning it and rejecting it if it matched a signiture, I'd be a lot more okay with it. However, Google is performing a semi-law enforcement job here, but with ZERO of the laws/rules that apply to the government. If a hotel took it upon itself to search people's rooms for drugs/guns/child porn and report it to police...would people be okay with that? I mean, it is the hotel's rooms after all and they are a company, so (in the US) the 4th Ammendment wouldn't apply at all.
exceededgoku 5th August 2014, 15:48 Quote
I'm sorry but what kind of criminal shares child porn through email!?

<satire>Hello, yes the 90's called they want you stop sending emails.</satire>

More on topic, to be honest I'm a bit surprised they weren't doing this before. Our privacy is broken everywhere else...
pantalaimon 5th August 2014, 17:51 Quote
Proton Mail says hi

https://protonmail.ch/
Margo Baggins 5th August 2014, 17:58 Quote
I think the only thing that I use my gmail for is my just-eat login - so it just collects a list of all the takeaways I've had. (quite some list).

Happy reading google.
fix-the-spade 5th August 2014, 18:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete J
I'll probably be in the minority here, but I'm okay with this.

Catching those kind of scum is worth almost any measure in my book.

I'm ok with this within this specific context, but it raises the question, what else are Google scanning for and for whom?

Is this applied in China (or Syria, Iran, Russia etc) to help make people disappear? If it's automated, who inputs the searched terms and who gets the results? Are they handing intel to people, or are they leaving someone else with the kills and claiming to know nothing about how it's used?

Within western countries is this even the only thing they're doing? Don't be evil indeed.
Corky42 5th August 2014, 18:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Margo Baggins
I think the only thing that I use my gmail for is my just-eat login - so it just collects a list of all the takeaways I've had. (quite some list).

Happy reading google.

Have you been getting spammed with adverts for slimming pills or slimming clubs lately. :D
If your not careful they may send a list of all those takeaways you've been enjoying to your doctors, if they have a moan about your high salt, sugar, or fat intake next time you see them you know why. :)
Pete J 5th August 2014, 19:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by fix-the-spade
I'm ok with this within this specific context, but it raises the question, what else are Google scanning for and for whom?

A fair point, and where does one draw the line? Say for example two men plot to kidnap and rape a woman using email as their communication - should this be flagged? What about planning an armed robbery? However I'm still in favour.

As for other countries, I would have assumed Russia and China are well ahead in snooping on the emails of their property citizens!
NethLyn 5th August 2014, 20:09 Quote
When I read the headline my first thought was "They scan for everything else", so meh, it's a good thing that they cover themselves legally given that Facebook gets the blame every time a crime happens and the criminal uses FB in some way.
Umbra 5th August 2014, 23:45 Quote
They are welcome to gmail, I only used it as a disposable email for forum sign ups, etc but recently according to google someone spent days trying to hack my gmail and showed a list of dates, times and location of the hack, I don't know what that was about :?

I attempted to verify the account was mine by going through the security procedure but it was so convoluted and required the exact day I opened the account, WTF, I have no idea, tell you what, f*** all this s***, if some sad hacker want's my gmail account that bad, then they can have it, as far as email accounts go, it's garbage
Jim 6th August 2014, 00:11 Quote
Are we saying that Google has a database of known CP pictures, and the footprint that the JPGs would have?
mi1ez 6th August 2014, 01:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim
Are we saying that Google has a database of known CP pictures, and the footprint that the JPGs would have?

About that, yes. They don't store the images, only the hashes.
supermonkey 6th August 2014, 20:23 Quote
If anyone is concerned about privacy and whether Google has the right to sift through your e-mail, it's worth remembering that we all agreed to the Terms of Use when we signed up for our free e-mail accounts. We all actually read those, right?
collateral 6th August 2014, 22:14 Quote
Terrorism and child abuse are the go-to crimes that every security measure aims to prevent
Corky42 7th August 2014, 10:42 Quote
It seems Google isn't the only one scanning peoples data, files, e-mails, etc.

Microsoft tip leads to child porn arrest in Pennsylvania
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28682686
Quote:
A tip-off from Microsoft has led to the arrest of a man in Pennsylvania who has been charged with receiving and sharing child abuse images.

It flagged the matter after discovering that an image involving a young girl had been allegedly saved to the man's OneDrive cloud storage account.

According to court documents, the man was subsequently detected trying to send two illegal pictures via one of Microsoft's live.com email accounts.
Umbra 7th August 2014, 11:50 Quote
Only the very naive and desperately hopeful could possibly believe that all that lovely data stored in various clouds was safe from scrutiny, 'But it's encrypted'
Beasteh 7th August 2014, 18:35 Quote
I hope the algorithm for finding abuse images is more effective than the algorithm Google uses for detecting copyright infringement...
erratum1 7th August 2014, 19:34 Quote
If anyone is stupid enogh to share cp through email just go to the Police station and hand yourself in.
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