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Sunday 21 September 2014

Google tips off authorities to man storing child porn on Gmail account

Published 04/08/2014 | 18:57

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Tuesday 14 May 2013. Google HQ, Dublin 2.
Google’s current headquarters in Dublin

Google has revealed the identity of a user storing images of child abuse on his Gmail account to police in the US, flagging up the fact that the US tech giant is scanning users email for illegal activity.

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The individual in question, a convicted sex offender, was arrested by local police in Houston, Texas after Google contacted the non-profit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to reports from KHOU 11 News.

"He was keeping it inside of his email. I can't see that information, I can't see that photo, but Google can," Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce told the station.

Google has not offered any comment on the individual case but has previously said that users have “no legitimate expectation of privacy” when using their services.

In April this year the company also updated its privacy policy to make this clear, telling users that “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.”

However, this is the first time that the company has been shown to scan emails for images of child abuse.

The company has previously said that it watches for this type of content by creating a database of ‘hashes’ – unique codes that correspond to known images of abuse and that allow the company to ‘look’ for abusive content without examining the image itself or keeping a permanent database of abusive content.

The US tech giant also helps fund the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in the UK, which is engaged in "proactively identifying child abuse images that Google can then remove from our search engine".

David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer, has previously said while "there is no simple technological fix" to eradicating images of child abuse online the company is "committed to doing everything possible to stop the distribution of this awful content."

It’s not clear what other illegal activities Google might be scanning users’ emails for, although The Independent understands that the company does not keep an eye out for “other forms” of illegal activity such as digital piracy or hate speech.

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