Despite users mostly believing so, they have no right, according to Google, to expect messages shared through its Gmail service are private

Man arrested as Google finds child porn in his email

Google has reported a man to the police after its automatic email scanning technology found sexually explicit images of children.

The case raises further concerns about online privacy and how technology companies use algorithms designed to tailor adverts to the individual needs of users.

"I can't see that information, I can't see that photo, but Google can," said Detective David Nettles, after the man, a convicted sex offender had been arrested in Houston, Texas.

The sole basis for the arrest was a tip from a child protection agency, which received the information from Google.

Earlier this year, Google has updated terms and conditions of the use of its Gmail service, to make it clear to its 400 million users around the world that it, indeed, scans emails for content to provide ‘personally relevant’ adverts.

Although Google said it does not comment on individual accounts, after a class-action lawsuit against the company was dismissed earlier this year, it made its stance clear, saying that "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties".

Google’s tactics have prompted widespread opposition as some see it only as a first step of possible more invasive public surveillance.

"When a company takes a commercial decision to scan the content of messages, it is the next logical step that governments and law enforcement will want to take advantage of that,” said Emma Carr, acting director of privacy group Big Brother Watch.

“With the rate that Gmail messages are scanned, and the fact that all US companies are bound by US law to report suspected child abuse, it is hardly surprising that this individual has found themselves on the wrong side of the law,” she said, calling for Google to make publicly clear what type of content, if shared via Gmail, could possibly cause trouble to users.

“Google must also make themselves very clear about what procedures and safeguards are in place to ensure that people are not wrongly criminalised, for instance, when potentially illegal content is shared but has been done so legitimately in the context of reporting or research."

Google said previously it would actively remove images of child abuse from its search results. The tech giant also launched a partnership with the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US to report the existence of images. The company also helps fund the Internet Watch Foundation, which is dedicated to finding and removing child abuse images from the web.

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