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It’s Great Google Caught This Child Predator, But It Doesn’t Make Invading User Emails Okay

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It s Great Google Caught This Child Predator  But It Doesn t Make Invading User Emails Okay Screen Shot 2014 08 04 at 6 42 18 AM 238x200 pngA Houston man has been arrested for possession of child pornography, after Google tipped off police to the contents of his emails. Google spotted images of a young girl in an email John Henry Skillern was sending to a friend. The company then alerted authorities. I’m totally behind prosecuting people who possess child pornography. I’m just not so sure about how I feel about Google taking an active law enforcement role.

“He was trying to get around getting caught, he was trying to keep it inside his email,” said Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce. “I can’t see that information, I can’t see that photo, but Google can.”

Skillern is a registered sex-offender who was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old boy in 1994. As far as I’m concerned, you pretty much give up your rights when you assault children – and I don’t care at all that this man’s privacy was violated. But where does Google draw the line? Will they only be tipping off police to crimes that we all generally feel are unforgivable, or will they be branching out? Have you ever seen that list of words that potentially flag you as a threat to public security? What if Google starts policing those (if they’re not already)? Unfortunately, when we start being okay with privacy and liberties vanishing for one person – even if he is a vile sex offender – we have to theoretically be okay with those privacies vanishing for everyone. Are we okay with that?

I was sending an email last week that mentioned the word “attached.” When there was no actual file attached, Google stopped me from sending the email, and “reminded me” that I hadn’t attached a file. That creeped me out. Google scans emails with the implied intent that it makes its services better. The company clearly has filters that tipped them off to Skillern’s content to begin with; I’m just wondering what other kinds of filters are set up. I get concerned when we started gladly handing over our privacy because one bad guy was caught.

“He seemed like a nice, normal man,” neighbor Yesenia Gonzales told the local news station. “Thank goodness for Google.”

Google does warn users in its Privacy Policy¬†that is it scanning users’ emails, and no one – including me – gives a shit about a child-pornographer’s privacy. But I seriously doubt that child pornographers are the only target of this practice.

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(photo: KHOU.com)

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