Google Tips Authorities To Child Porn After Scanning Gmail For Ad Targeting

Google's actions led to the arrest of an alleged child pornographer after the Mountain View, Calif. company tipped off officials about explicit images in the Gmail account of a man who had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting a child many years ago. The case raises questions about the company's ethical responsibility and may help to put the technology that targets advertisements based on audience segments in a positive light.

Tipping authorities also reminds users that the Internet remains an open forum not only to target consumers with advertisements, but to identify and help stop unscrupulous activities. Google doesn't hide the fact it scans email content. In April, the company's Terms of Service was updated to explain how its automated systems analyze content across its network of services, including Gmail.

"Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising and spam and malware detection. The analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored," per Google.

A U.S. Judge last month denied the status of a class action suit brought on by non-Gmail users alleging that Gmail's email scanning feature to target ads goes against wiretap laws. These non-Gmail users did not consent to Google's practices or scanning and creating audience profiles for brands to use as a targeting tool. In the past, Google has said that all Gmail users must sign the terms of service agreeing to have their emails read, and that the information helps it better target advertisements on behalf of brands.

Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving, explains the company's position on fighting child exploitation since 2006 in a June 2013 blog post. The company teamed with other tech companies to form the Technology Coalition to develop technical solutions to combat abuse and help locate missing children.

"Google mail homepage on a monitor screen through a magnifying glass" photo from Shutterstock.

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