Google helped law enforcement arrest a man in Houston, Texas by sending a tip to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The search giant used information obtained from the suspect’s email account, according to a report from Business Insider. Already a registered sex offender, the man was previously convicted of sexually assaulting a child in 1994 and was recently caught after sending explicit images of a child via email.
“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 TV station KHOU Channel 11. Police weren’t given direct access to the alleged images, but did use them to issue an arrest warrant. Further investigation of the man’s electronic devices uncovered additional suspicious images and text messages. He was later taken into custody and is being held on a $200,000 bond.
While most people would be happy to see technology being used to prevent crimes against children, Google’s methods make some individuals question the way the company handles confidential information. Google has publicly battled child exploitation and last year in a blog post the company outlined how it identifies known abuse images.
Since 2008, we’ve 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 ID that our computers can recognize without humans having to view them again. Recently, we’ve started working to incorporate encrypted “fingerprints” of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database. This will enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals.
In this particular scenario Google’s access to information was used for good, however its actions can easily raise privacy concerns among upright citizens using the company’s services for their intended purposes.