Google has alerted the authorities about the online activities of one of its users. Google alerted officials in Texas after user John Henry Skillern was found to have explicit images of a young girl in his Gmail inbox. Here’s what you need to know about Skillern, and how Google was involved in his arrest.
1. John Henry Skillern Had Illegal Images in His Gmail
The BBC writes that Google discovered the illegal images of child exploitation in Skillern’s Gmail account. The BBC report adds that Google has refused to comment on whether Gmail user accounts are also being searched for things like hate speech or pirated media. The Daily Mail explains that Skillern’s misdeeds were noticed because of an advanced algorithm that Google uses.
2. He Was Arrested After Google Turned Him In
After the existence of the email was found in John Henry Skillern’s Gmail account, Google passed the information along to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. From there, the police were alerted. After obtaining a search warrant, the police arrested Skillern. He is being held on a $200,000 bond.
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3. John Henry Skillern Is a Convicted Sex Offender
The Microsoft ad above argues that Gmail’s practice of “reading” your email is invasive.
This is not Skillern’s first brush with the law. The 41-year-old has a prior record of sex crimes, having been convicted in 1994 of aggravated sexual assault on an 8-year-old boy.
4. Skillern Worked at Denny’s & Filmed Children There
According to Houston’s KHOU, Skillern worked as a cook at Denny’s. The same report notes that video on Skillern’s cell phone shows “young children visiting the restaurant with their families.”
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5. Skillern’s Arrest Raises Serious Questions About Google Users’ Privacy
While few people are upset about Google’s role in bringing a crime to the attention of the authorities, critics note that Google’s part in the Skillern arrest raises questions about privacy on Gmail. Earlier this year, Google was faced with a lawsuit that argued Google’s practice of “reading” emails to generate relevant ads was a violation of wiretap laws.
CNET writes that technology doesn’t always get it right when it comes to “detecting” crime:
“One of the more difficult questions in this case, as in many others is: What if Google is wrong about images being child porn? A recent case involving Instagram, in which a mom was accused of posting inappropriate images that seemed to many entirely innocent, showed the dangers inherent in using technology plus human oversight to catch the genuinely criminal.
There will always be the vexing question of whether Google should be the policeman at all.”
David Drummond, the Chief Legal Officer for Google, has previously gone on the record about the company’s role in protecting children from internet predators:
“We have co-funded the Internet Watch Foundation for the last nine years. The women and men at the IWF do critically important work that few of us could stomach–proactively identifying child abuse images that Google can then remove from our search engine…
Google is in the business of making information widely available, and we’ve always supported freedom of expression. But there can be no free speech when it comes to images of child sexual abuse.”