Google reports man for 'sending child porn'

Google unearths child abuse by monitoring Gmail accounts

Man arrested after Google flagged images of alleged child abuse sent from his Gmail account

LAST UPDATED AT 08:58 ON Tue 5 Aug 2014

Google has revealed the identity of a user who allegedly sent images of child abuse from his Gmail account, raising questions about email privacy and the role of technology companies in policing the web.

Google discovered the images in an email account in Houston, Texas, and notified a child protection agency, which in turn notified the police, local news agency KHOU 11 reported.

Police say that Google's software detected explicit images of a young girl that 41-year-old John Henry Skillern was attempting to send to a friend. The company then contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

According to reports, Skillern is a registered sex offender who was working as a chef at the US restaurant chain Denny's at the time of his arrest.

"He was trying to get around getting caught, he was trying to keep it inside his email," said Detective David Nettles of the Houston police. "I can't see that information, I can't see that photo, but Google can".

Emma Carr, a senior member of the privacy lobby group Big Brother Watch, told the BBC: "With the rate that Gmail messages are scanned, and the fact that all US companies are bound by US law to report suspected child abuse, it is hardly surprising that this individual has found themselves on the wrong side of the law. However, Gmail users will certainly be interested to know what action Google proactively takes to monitor and analyse Gmail messages for illegal content, including details of what sorts of illegal activity may be targeted."

According to the BBC, Google doesn't monitor its email accounts for either piracy or hate speech. The company does, however, proactively search for child porn being sent via Gmail.

Last year Google announced that it would spearhead the creation of a new sharable database that would make it easier for investigators to identify and remove images of child sexual abuse, PC Mag reports.

In November 2013, the company also promised to crack down on attempts to access child pornography through its search engine. "In the last three months [we] put more than 200 people to work developing new, state-of-the-art technology to tackle the problem," Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt wrote in an op-ed at the time. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.