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Google Crime Privacy

Google Spots Explicit Images of a Child In Man's Email, Tips Off Police 790

Posted by samzenpus
from the do-not-pass-go dept.
mrspoonsi writes with this story about a tip sent to police by Google after scanning a users email. A Houston man has been arrested after Google sent a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children saying the man had explicit images of a child in his email, according to Houston police. The man was a registered sex offender, convicted of sexually assaulting a child in 1994, reports Tim Wetzel at KHOU Channel 11 News in Houston. "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 Channel 11. After Google reportedly tipped off the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Center alerted police, which used the information to get a warrant.
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Google Spots Explicit Images of a Child In Man's Email, Tips Off Police

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  • by the_Bionic_lemming (446569) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:07PM (#47596577)

    The great things google can offer, 1984 saves the children!

    (Yes it's good that pedophiles get hurt - But there is a very very bad precedent here...)

    • Agreed. Even good outcomes do not justify bad behaviour. We should not be happy that Google is perusing the content of our E-mail with anything but automated tools (for advertising, etc.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Agreed. Even good outcomes do not justify bad behaviour. We should not be happy that Google is perusing the content of our E-mail with anything

        FYP

        • by infolation (840436) on Monday August 04, 2014 @03:14AM (#47597759)
          if encrypted email is a letter and unencrypted email is a postcard, the storing pictures in email on google's servers is leaving your postcard collection with a warehouse that stores postcards for free.

          Would you be surprised when a warehouse reports you for storing illegal postcards there? Just because it's google doing the reporting doesn't automatically make it bad.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by scottbomb (1290580)

        Which is why I don't use gmail and I find it rather alarming just how many people are/have switched to gmail. This is not to say Hotmail and Yahoo are any better at minding our privacy but I don't use them anymore either - for the same reason.

        • by Pepebuho (167300) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:01PM (#47596859) Homepage

          Guess what, even if you are not using gmail, chances ae people that you communicate with regularly ARE using e-mail, therefore, some of your email still passes through google's servers.

          Cheer up!

          • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Monday August 04, 2014 @02:42AM (#47597671)

            Guess what, even if you are not using gmail, chances ae people that you communicate with regularly ARE using e-mail, therefore, some of your email still passes through google's servers.

            Benjamin Mako Hill did an analysis of his inbox. He found Google has about HALF of this personal email - and he runs his own mail server and everything. See http://www.slate.com/blogs/fut... [slate.com]

            Anyhow, the interesting thing is that Google has a bunch of file hashes, and they actually matched the image. I mean considering how easy it is to change the file hash, they seemed to just collect and send the same image over and over again?

            You'd think by now they'd alter the images slightly to keep changing the file hash.

      • by GNious (953874) on Monday August 04, 2014 @01:19AM (#47597399)

        It is in the ToS, which at least 1 party (the account-owner) has agreed to.

        We can try all we want to compare this to 1984 and what-nut, but if we explicitly allows a company to rummage through our email, we have no basis for complaining when it happens.

        (Note: I can think of at least 1 country where this part of the ToS would be invalid)

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Monday August 04, 2014 @02:33AM (#47597637) Homepage

        We should not be happy that Google is perusing the content of our E-mail with anything but automated tools

        It is an automated tool. They look for hashes of known illegal images.

        That in itself is worrying because recipients can't control what email appears in their inbox. There are sites out there that offer illegal imagery for download specifically for sending to victims to get them in trouble, or for posting to forums as a kind of trolling.

    • by Masked Coward (3773883) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:16PM (#47596623)
      My thoughts exactly. It goes without saying that I feel no sympathy for a child molester. BUT....... oh the abuse this could lead to. Remember, some people classify "potential terrorist" as those who cite the Constitution in online article comments.
      • by arth1 (260657) on Monday August 04, 2014 @12:42AM (#47597263) Homepage Journal

        Remember, some people classify "potential terrorist" as those who cite the Constitution in online article comments.

        Everyone is a potential terrorist.
        Chief Justice John G. Roberts, CIA director John Brennan, actress Julia Roberts, you and I are all potential terrorists. And potential child molesters too.

        It goes without saying that I feel no sympathy for a child molester.

        It shouldn't go without saying. That's groupthink.

        What distinguishes a mensch from a barbarian is the ability to have sympathy for even those you despise the most. If someone is a child molester, I would think it highly likely that they suffer from a mental illness, and need our help. I don't think there are many who decided to become a child molester.

        The more heinous the crime, the more important it is that we do not let base feelings take control. If we do, we are no better than the child molesters who let their base feelings take control of what they do.

    • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:59PM (#47596851)

      The "success" here is completely insignificant in comparison to the huge costs to society. That you even feel the need to qualify your statement just shows that the artificial demonization of this material in order to justify a surveillance state has worked very well. It seems that by now people have completely forgotten that the actual problem is children getting hurt, not pictures of it or teenagers "sexting" each other. For all we know this person has a picture of a nude teenager, which does not even qualify as pornography in most countries. There is a reason this material does not get shown to the public. With the strong focus on digital material, the police gets easy "successes", and can justify any and all surveillance, but does not actually prevent any child from getting hurt. While it is difficult to get information (what a surprise), it seems that most acts of child abuse do not actually end up documented on the Internet and that commercial production is basically non-existent, as following money-trails is very, very easy.

      At the same time, the police-state and the fascism that universally follows it get more and more established.

    • by arth1 (260657) on Monday August 04, 2014 @02:36AM (#47597653) Homepage Journal

      Yes it's good that pedophiles get hurt

      Why, exactly, is it good that pedophiles get hurt?

      Pedophilia is a perverse sexual orientation, like zoophilia, coprophilia and many others, but does not imply that the afflicted has or will abuse children. There's a greater risk, but we do not wish to punish people for being a greater risk, do we? If so, it would be good if we hurt all male relatives, who by far pose the greatest risk for a child being molested.

      If we want to stop child molestations, I think what we need to do is look at why some people do the heinous deeds, and figure out how to stop people from flipping over.
      Somehow I get the feeling that many would be sad if that happened, because then they wouldn't have anyone to string up and exact revenge on.
      But in my opinion, one child molested is one too many, and no matter how much you flog pedophiles, it won't reduce the problem.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Monday August 04, 2014 @06:50AM (#47598489) Homepage

        It's obvious why these things happen, it's just that society is powerless to do anything constructive about it.

        There are basically two types of people who rape children. Some are just normal, otherwise healthy people who have a natural attraction to pubescent children below the age of consent. Like it or not human beings are driven to breed well below the age of consent, it's just our genetic make-up. Most adults understand why this is a bad thing to do and restrain themselves, and those who don't are incorrectly labelled paedophiles (paedophile refers to someone attracted to pre-pubescent children). It doesn't matter if they actually harmed anyone, the mere fact that they were unable to repress their natural urges and looked at a child with feelings of lust is enough.

        The other group are those with a mental illness who are attracted to pre-pubescent children. They have mental health problems that need to be addressed. Unfortunately society makes it very difficult for them to get treatment because of the extreme stigma attached to their condition. The media tends to pain paedophiles as monsters, so extremely disgusting that people with that illness do not want to associate themselves with that image in the early stages when treatment would be most effective and prevent any actual crimes taking place.

        Obviously we need to protect children and punish criminals, but the way we go about it now we actually create an environment where people can't get treatment before they become criminals.

  • This is chilling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MasseKid (1294554) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:16PM (#47596625)
    This is chilling, not for pedophiles, fuck them, but for the average citizen. While, I absolutely believe it's google's job to report illegal activity they accidentally uncover to the police, this appears google is actively searching your e-mails for things to forward to the police, and that's a chilling thought for free speech, freedom, and prevention of abuse of power.
    • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:24PM (#47596671) Homepage Journal

      People seem to miss the opportunity for incredibly bad behaviour. What about if a company like Google starts reporting on who you want to vote for? There are a lot of reasons the post office doesn't open the mail -- and our electronic equivalents should respect that same privacy.

    • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:42PM (#47596761)

      There is no "accidental" here. They either are systematically scanning all email or they had (again) some system administrator looking at private email without authorization. That is extremely troubling. That they found somebody possessing illegal digital goods is besides the point. A police state is characterized by universal surveillance and the eradication of all privacy. Sure, in a police state, more people doing illegal things are caught initially (but only then), but that is in no way desirable at this huge price.

    • Re:This is chilling (Score:4, Informative)

      by jeIIomizer (3670945) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:19PM (#47596965)

      not for pedophiles, fuck them

      Pedophiles are simply people who have a sexual attraction towards children. Being a pedophile does not mean you molest children or even look at child porn.

      The term "pedophile" is being misused by people who don't even know what it means, to the detriment of many people who have never harmed anyone.

      While, I absolutely believe it's google's job to report illegal activity

      Not all laws are just, so don't pretend that they are.

    • While, I absolutely believe it's google's job to report illegal activity [...]

      It really shouldn't be Google's job to report illegal activity. If a company is going to do cloud computing on the scale Google does, there should be privacy laws in place, similar to doctor/patient privilege, or lawyer/client privilege, or priest/confessioner privilege. Google might be put on the spot through a warrant or whatever, but should not volunteer any information of their own.

      And before someone points out that I've

  • Others?? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:22PM (#47596657) Homepage
    How does Google do this for one person? If they suddenly started scanning images for this, you think they would uncover a few thousand people at a time. Are we supposed to believe that they specially targeted him, or that he is the only person to ever send naked pictures of children through gmail?
    • Re:Others?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gweihir (88907) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:14PM (#47596929)

      They probably found a few thousand by automated scanning, and then selected one that actually had abused children 20 years in the past (and paid for it), because that will kill all reason in the general public. The aim, is rather obviously, to slowly break it to the public that all email content gets scanned. Of course it is in a good cause, like fighting illegal pixels and imaginary terrorists! (Can't do anything about people that actually hurt children, that would be far too expensive. And while the FBI has done its best to create "terrorists", they just cannot deliver enough...) Next, they will be going after people without priors, then anything "inappropriate" and finally, even badmouthing some politician in a private email will get you a visit from your friendly neighborhood SWAT team, after all you could be planning mass-murder.

    • Re:Others?? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:20PM (#47596975)
      I had the same thought, and then i realized it said registered sex offender... plausibly, he placed himself in a higher risk/lower freedom category.

      Even though we are not ascribing values of good and bad to the Googliness, the argument for protection of the ffreedom of those most undeserving amongst us is often an easy moral conundrum to overcome.

      That is why they begin the gentle eroding of citizen freedom there, at the lowest common denominator. It's difficult to object, if in doing so, you find yourself defending reprehensible behavior. It is horribly obvious and routinely acceptable manipulation...

  • Good riddance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:25PM (#47596675) Homepage Journal

    Both to the pedophile and to the illusion of privacy people had when using Gmail.

    (They have an obligation to report child porn if they find it, but they don't have an obligation to look. My suspicion is Google is not happy about what happened.)

    • Re:Good riddance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LordLucless (582312) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:46PM (#47596787)

      Yeah, I have absolutely no problem with this article. You don't want RandomCompany looking at your emails? Don't send your emails through RandomCompany servers.

      Don't want your ISP looking at your emails? Encrypt your emails.

      Don't have the ability to understand how to encrypt your emails and want someone to manage it for you because technology is all so hard but you still want to use it? Suck it up and learn, or pay someone to do it for you and stop whining about your own ignorance.

    • Re:Good riddance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya&gmail,com> on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:59PM (#47596847)

      They have an obligation to report child porn if they find it, but they don't have an obligation to look.

      Actually, naive me was thinking that they have an obligation NOT TO LOOK.
      I also have a storage room rental -- does that mean the owner is allowed to do random checks for stolen goods? Just in case?

  • by imag0 (605684) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:36PM (#47596737) Homepage

    Gmail allows for dot address matching. This is a *huge* problem that has never been addressed.

    Apparently my first letter, last name gmail address happens to be pretty popular. So popular, I receive emails from at least 5 other people in my inbox. One from PA, another one in Florida, still another in New Zealand... I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Apparently, this seems to happen a bit to people [google.com].

    Sadly, Google has no fix for it, no way to get it to stop. Their support address and site are useless, imho.

    I have since moved all of my email off to my own domain and mail services not controlled by Google. I still keep the account open and forwarding to my new email address, so I still get their email, too. I do what I can to minimize problems by auto-deleting everything that hits my inbox that's obviously not for me.

    Stories like this scare the shit out of me because, at any time, if one of those people I happen to receive email for suddenly decides to go into full-creep mode, I could be put in prison for a very, very long time. Not for anything that I have done, but for how gmail has been setup to allow for this.

    • by c6gunner (950153) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:15PM (#47596937)

      Gmail allows for dot address matching. This is a *huge* problem that has never been addressed.

      It hasn't been addressed because there is no such problem. All of the incidents described in the link you provided, as well as your own experience, seem to be explained by user stupidity. No need to invent some mysterious google-bug in order to explain it.

      I had a similar experience; some idiot used my google email address, with a dot in the middle (no dot in mine), as his recovery e-mail for a bunch of his other accounts. So I kept getting periodic emails letting me know when he's signed in from a new location. Confused the shit out of me at first. After I contacted him to let him know about it, it turned out he was misspelling his own e-mail address.

      When the choice is between user stupidity and a systemic problem, always pick user stupidity.

      Stories like this scare the shit out of me because, at any time, if one of those people I happen to receive email for suddenly decides to go into full-creep mode, I could be put in prison for a very, very long time.

      Nonsense. If this were true, any pissed off person who knows your e-mail address could get your arrested by spamming you with kiddie-porn from an anonymous e-mail provider. You're not going to go to jail just for receiving e-mail.

  • by supersat (639745) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:42PM (#47596759)
    Microsoft has something called PhotoDNA which scours Bing, Outlook, etc. for child porn. I believe they also make it available to other companies. In fact, given the difficulty of getting images to train on, I wouldn't be surprised if Google was using Microsoft's PhotoDNA technology.
  • Lets try this.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:44PM (#47596771)
    I have no idea if this guy did this or not (innocent until proven right?) It looks like he did, but consider the following . Registered sex offenders in most states have to register their email address. Sometimes even so much as providing the password.

    With legal (or cracked) access to anyone's email account (sex offender or not) lets see how easy it is to plant evidence.

    1. Access account, add a folder or label (preferably hidden buy being buried in default sort order or under another folder).
    2. Set filter with obscure rule to automatically route certain emails to said folder.
    3. Send "illicit" or "evidentiary" messages that match said filter. These can be sent from self or whatever generated entity seems appropriate.
    4. Access account again from various public IP addresses (or from target's own wifi). Read already read email, plus messages in target folder.
    5. Remove filter. Have Google 'find' the evidence. Arrest wrongdoer.

    This is not that far fetched. The chain of evidence doe not prove that the target is guilty, but can be made to look enough like it to convince a judge or jury. From the vantage of Google or a jury, it looks as though the subject sent or had sent, expected, and read the messages.
    Just about anyone here could do this with the creds to an account - which in most situations are not terribly hard to garner.
    Before you say you would notice the folder in your account, think of this. I have over 100 folders in my email account, some rarely opened, and never all visible on the screen. I wouldn't have noticed - but I may have enough knowledge to fight - a little anyway. How about a novice, when a folder named 'Archived Messages' appears. Would he/she even think twice?

    I did not RTFA, but I know google uses their image search algos for blocking known child porn sites. It is not a hard step to run that against email messages. How about when the NSA/CIA/FBI tells google (via a NSL) scan all messages for x terms. How about when said terms are sent to and from hacked accounts as a matter of course?

    It is important to realize that absolutely no communication that is unencrypted is private, but how about whe forged open communications can make you a criminal?

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:53PM (#47596819)

    If they can do this for this cause, they can do this for any cause, or for no cause at all.

    I can't say I am surprised.

  • by JThundley (631154) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @10:56PM (#47596833) Homepage

    Were they really snooping around this guy's email for no reason or do they check your attachments against a list of hashes of known child porn?

  • the ARTICLE states (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:58PM (#47597123)

    that this was discovered via a known hash of known child pornagraphy images.

    it seems to me that google must keep a hash table of alot of things sitting around on it's drives,
    using hashes to reduce redundant storage requirements means that this very well have been discovered AUTOMAGICALLY, and thus required google to act on it.

    i don't think the spin being placed here as it being an 'invasion' of privacy is accurate here considering my prior statement
    you should thank google for helping to stop people invading the child's privacy by putting a stop to sharing of images like this

    the methods potentionally employed in the discovery of this image are both automated and reasonable
    and the reaction of google is not only reasonable and actionable, it's also commendable.
    we all can keep our privacy if all they're doing is storage reduction through hash comparison.
    fin.

    • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Monday August 04, 2014 @08:58AM (#47599173)

      i don't think the spin being placed here as it being an 'invasion' of privacy is accurate here considering my prior statement
      you should thank google for helping to stop people invading the child's privacy by putting a stop to sharing of images like this

      Actually, I was thinking the perhaps we shouldn't jump the gun because maybe Google was troubleshooting something and discovered the image accidentally.

      The hash table of a lot of things could be a problem. I have a relative who sends me political memes. How hard is it to hash those and get a list of known Conservatives/Liberals/etc. McCarthy wasn't that long ago. Not too long ago being gay got you kicked out of the military. Drug laws are in flux. The list of things which are good or bad depending on either time or your own opinion goes on and on. The post office doesn't get to open your mail and compare the contents to a list of known bad things. Why does Google?

  • by bansai665 (225959) on Monday August 04, 2014 @02:58AM (#47597727)

    Philadelphia is wrong on many levels. Thus, good on Google. However, there is a lot to think about here. Namely, what if some spammer sends me photos of minors and Google sees it? Will I be reported? Or more realistically, what if someone that I have a poor relationship with sends me illegal images and Google sees it? Will I be held accountable for my that person's actions too?

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