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Google's Gmail tip leads to child porn arrest near Houston

Google's Gmail Tip Leads To Child Porn Arrest Near Houston

Police in Houston say Google's Gmail nabbed a child pornography suspect they couldn't have caught otherwise.



KHOU first reported the story last week with police saying 41-year-old John Skillern emailed three explicit pictures of a young girl to a friend. Google's software detected the pictures.

​Detective David Nettles, Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce: "He was trying to get around getting caught by just keeping it inside of his email. I would never be able to find that. I don't really know how they do their job, but I'm just glad they do it."​

Prosecutors charged Skillern with one count of possession of child porn and one count of promoting it. The news of advanced software tipping off police about a crime as disturbing as child pornography was quickly tempered by the news advanced software tipped off police, period.

Google's made no secret it scans Gmail users' accounts to provide targeted ads and even argued in court users should have no expectation of privacy. In response to a class action complaint against the company last year, Google's attorneys argued, "Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient's ECS provider in the course of delivery."

The company also partly funds the Internet Watch Foundation, which identifies child abuse images on the Web.

Still, as a writer for CNET put it, "There will always be the vexing question of whether Google should be the policeman at all."

The Telegraph pointed out this is the first confirmation Google searches out information from private accounts not on the public Internet.

"Although few would argue [whether] tracking down those who collect, store or transmit images of child abuse is important work, it will also raise privacy concerns for those who feel uneasy about Google searching through every image they send via GMail."

Of course, if you've been paying attention, they've been strongly hinting at it for some time now.

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