Most people are aware Google scans emails to develop advertisements targeted to users’ particular interests. In fact, the notion Google will scan your content to tailor your advertising has been well known; the company’s terms of service notify users their emails are being analyzed. However, most people are not aware Google also scans both emails and search requests on its site to detect and report child pornography.
Google’s online set of “program policies” for its Gmail service includes “a zero-tolerance policy against child sexual abuse imagery.” That policy states: “If we become aware of such content, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and may take disciplinary action, including termination, against the Google accounts of those involved.”
Consistent with that policy, since 2008 Google has actively scanned images that pass through Gmail accounts to determine whether they match up with known child pornography. More specifically, Google has been using “hashing” technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing it to identify duplicate images in Gmail accounts or in search results, even if the images have been altered. Each offending image effectively is assigned a unique ID Google’s computers can recognize without someone having to view them again. And, Google also incorporates encrypted “fingerprints” of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database. This technique enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against anyone involved with producing or viewing the materials. Continue reading