Google scans your Gmail inbox for child porn to help catch criminals but …

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Google scans your Gmail inbox for child porn to help catch criminals but …

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+++++++++++++++
A Dan Thompson contribution

Google scans your Gmail inbox for child porn to help catch criminals, but
don’t worry about loss of privacy (yet)

Last week, a man in Texas was arrested by the police for sending child porn
to a friend email. This isn’t something we’d usually report on, except in
this case the man was arrested due to a direct tip-off from Google, which
caught the child porn moving across its Gmail servers and dutifully alerted
the police. This raises a rather thorny question: How did Google scan the
man’s inbox for child porn? And more importantly, does this mean Google is
scanning everyone’s inbox for child porn and other illegal materials? Is
there some gross invasion of privacy going on here?

First, the good news: According to Google, which gave a statement to the AFP
after the arrest of the Houston man
, “we only use this
technology to identify child sexual abuse imagery.” Google even goes on to
clarify what it doesn’t scan: “[We don’t scan] other email content that
could be associated with criminal activity (for example using email to plot
a burglary).”

Furthermore, Google doesn’t have some crack team of child porn investigators
that manually searches through some 400 million Gmail inboxes. Instead,
Google employs and automated system that checks the cryptographic hash
(think of it as a digital fingerprint) of every attachment that traverses
its servers. Exact technical details of Google’s automated system aren’t
known, but it almost certainly works in the same way as Dropbox

‘s automated copyright/piracy prevention system. Basically, Google maintains
a database of known indecent images of children – and then compares the
hash/fingerprint every attachment you send against that database. If there’s
a match, presumably a human at Google double-checks the result and then
notifies the relevant authorities.

*Microsoft’s PhotoDNA software.

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/84234-new-technologies-from-microsoft-a
nd-korean-researchers-can-detect-and-block-porn

PhotoDNA is a little more complex than straight up hashing, and is thus able
to detect child porn images that have been modified from the original.

Such approaches aren’t unusual, too. Since 2009, Microsoft has been
developing a system called Photo DNA
that can automatically
identify child porn. Microsoft has since donated PhotoDNA to the National
Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and along with Microsoft’s
own OneDrive and Bing, it’s also used by Facebook and Twitter. The same kind
of digital fingerprinting also exists for video, and other forms of media.
In all cases, though, these systems can only detect files that have already
been tagged as child porn; it won’t pick up a new file that hasn’t been seen
before. These databases – maintained by Google, Microsoft, NCMEC, the
authorities, and others – contain upwards of a hundred million examples of
known child porn images and video. But they’re no good at preventing people
from creating and disseminating new stuff.

While no one is claiming that automated detection of child porn is a bad
thing, it does raise some interesting questions. As

Google explicitly points out, other criminal activity via Gmail is ignored.
Why should Google prevent the distribution of child porn, but not other
crimes? If Google detects email correspondence between two would-be
terrorists, should it intervene? What about two thieves discussing plans to
burglarize someone’s home? Or two guys planning to rape a girl at next
week’s house party?

Google has previously admitted that it does scan your Gmail inbox to display
relevant ads, so it’s clearly capable of detecting potentially criminal
activity. Likewise, Google (and Microsoft and other big web companies) could
easily keep track of people searching for child porn or bomb-making guides.
Child porn is probably only the beginning.

From ExtremeTech

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/187521-google-scans-your-gmail-inbox-for-child-porn-to-help-catch-criminals-but-dont-worry-about-loss-of-privacy-yet

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