How Google Hunts Down Child Porn In Gmail

How Google Hunts Down Child Porn In Gmail

After yesterday's news that Google caught a sex offender who'd left no virtual trace of his misdeeds outside of his Gmail account, people were understandably a little conflicted about what that meant in terms of privacy. Now, the company has come out to (every so slightly) clarify their methods: It's not you they're tracking, but the illicit content itself.

In a statement to the AFP, a Google spokesperson explained:

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).

And while not mentioned by name in the statement, the entire "fingerprinting" process was outlined by Google Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, in a Telegraph article just over a year ago. In it, Drummond outlines Google's efforts with the Internet Watch Foundation to "proactively identifying child abuse images that Google can then remove from our search engine." And this tagging process has been about 7 years in the making:

Since 2008, we have used "hashing" technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere. Each offending image in effect gets a unique fingerprint that our computers can recognise without humans having to view them again.

So while Google is scanning your inbox, it's only looking for those virtual items it's already marked as illegal. Your privacy is still intact, and justice is, thankfully, being served. [AFP via Engadget]


Comments

    How is this news? Did people think Google employees were randomly browsing through people's email and happened upon this?

      No, but its good to understand a bit more detail on how its done and what is actually scanned in order to put people at easy that their private emails etc arent being mined for information that they do not wish to share.

    So Google gets to decide what is illegal and what is not? Where does it stop? Be a fool to think this only applies to images, any document can be hashed and deemed illegal. What happens to the next Wikileaks/Snowden leaking politically damaging information, or information regarding Google's plans to take over the world? When will Google apply this to EVERYTHING on the internet, not just Gmail (if they haven't already) *puts on tin foil hat*

      I'm pretty sure any decent human has decided child porn is illegal. I'm usually the first to get on the google hate train, but seriously, child porn.

      Really though you'd be an idiot to put anything illegal into such mainstream services.

        I agree.. but it does set up a dangerous precedent. Are they hashing everything that comes through Google? Not just images... I'm sure they already are, leads to better advertising if you shared that funny cat picture/video with all your friends. What if google decides you shouldn't be sharing that funny cat picture anymore because its copyrighted by someone else? Or flag you with the US gov because you shared a leaked document with someone?

          If they have the tech for reverse image search, surely it's not that hard to use that tech to find any picture they want, in this case, child porn.

      I'm pretty sure Google gets the hashes from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children or somewhere. They probably add in any others that are brought to their attention that reside on their services.

    1. don't use child porn
    2. don't use it through your email by one of the most advanced tech companies in the world haha

      1. Don't abuse children; whether it's done by you or done by others, it's still utterly wrong and misguided - (to anyone reading this, please get help if this sentence is hard to understand).
      2. There shouldn't be a 2, but while there is; don't end it with a 'haha'.

    Didn't realise the method was as mundane as simple file hashing. I guess if you're dumb enough to share illegal material via email, you're probably also dumb enough to share the image in raw, unedited form. When the only ones you see getting caught are the absolute nitwits, makes you wonder what hope there is to catch the smart ones. With VPNs and end to end encryption, there must be a whole other level of criminals completely impervious to this kind of monitoring.

    I guarantee you it wont just be kiddie porn they are looking for. Our emails will be just like wikipedia, only more accurate.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now