Unfortunately it seems that online child pornography is in the news again and as with every other occasion, there are calls for the service providers to be stricter with what they allow through their servers. The recent arrest of John Henry Skillern 41 in Texas has led to praise for the tipster that let the police know what he had done. Stand up Google and take the applause for taking a giant step in the right direction.
The local law enforcement officers have confirmed that it was Google that alerted then to the fact that they had become aware that illicit images where contained in the Gmail account of Skillern. This is part of an ongoing campaign that Google is carrying out to try and outlaw online child porn.
Despite the good result this has not been universally accepted as a positive move. A lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Hannu Fakhoury has said that the actions taken by Google is “a targeted, narrow way to get at the problem.” He is concerned that there are dangers if Facebook or Google are allowed to police the users of their sites.
His concerns are regarding other less serious offences and he asks if we want to live in such a way that organizations are policing what we do. He goes on to say What if I write an email that’s harassing or contends offensive language? Will Gmail police that too?”
It seems strange to hear condemnation of a system that is aimed only at people doing things wrong and Google have felt the need to hit back at the criticism. A spokesman has confirmed that in the terms of service it says that they may refuse illegal content but this does not mean that content is reviewed.
Ryan Calo who is a Technical Policy Expert and the School of Law in the University of Washington defends the right of Google to do this as it is in keeping with their terms and conditions. With regard to Google policing their site he said “they could do it and it wouldn’t violate the terms of service or the Fourth Amendment,” He continued by reminding people that when they sign up for Google users agree to this activity.
Despite the defence of Google by many there is still cynicism from Hannu Fakhoury as Microsoft have also admitted that they have hacked an account looking for evidence and he continues by saying “We have to be really careful with how far we allow these service providers to go,”