MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — After being credited with a tip to led to the arrest of Texas man “possessing and promoting” sexually explicit images of children, Google has revealed that it does indeed scan Gmail to find and report such illegal imagery.
However, in a statement given to SiliconeBeat, Google says it does not scan email for anything else, including other types of illegal activity.
“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 [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children],” Google said in the statement. “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).”
Some concern over Gmail privacy surfaced after Houston police said it received information about previously convicted sex offender John Skillern for reportedly sending images of underage girls through his email from the NCMEC, who in turn said they received the information from Google.
Google reports to use software expressly designed to detect illegal child porn images, which, if they have previously been identified, bear encrypted digital codes marking them as such. The software detects the code, and triggers a software alarm.
The search engine giant has previously faced lawsuits for scanning software for advertising purposes and to fight spam. However, in the wake of the NSA scandal, Google denies handing over personal information to government bodies, unless compelled by a legal order.