Should Google be allowed to look through our Emails?
Earlier this week, a story broke about a man being arrested for having pictures of underage girls on his cell phone and his hard drive. That in and of itself is a terrible crime, and we are much better off with him in jail.
How he came to be arrested however, is a different story.
His arrest came from a warrant local authorities obtained with the help of Google. Yes, the internet search engine-turned behemoth has now turned its attention towards crime-fighting it seems. According to Google, a system scan was able to pick photos up that John Skillern (the criminal) sent to a friend and determine that they were inappropriate. While this it is comforting to know that he is off the streets, it does raise a couple of important questions:
How is google able to find these photos without employees combing through every image?
How do they determine which photos are a cause for concern?
And finally, Should they be allowed to do this?
In the wake of NSA findings and Edward Snowden, it is no secret that we live in an era when software companies can and will spy on their consumers at any given time. A right to privacy is important, especially when it comes to sensitive information. However, if Google can effectively monitor information being sent through Gmail, does this mean they can potentially help stop a future terrorist attack or other major crime from happening? It is likely that is their position regarding our information, but what happens when they incorrectly pull images and alert the police?
The problem is their trust in a system that lacks a human element. Whatever formula they have coded to monitor these things lacks any real awareness of situations and therefore can’t contextualize the images it finds in a way that allows for understanding. Naturally they haven’t revealed this formula to the public, as I’m sure it would give some indication at what they do internally for other projects.
This is just another example of technology working to make our world a safer place, but at a potential cost. I know that my inbox doesn’t contain anything worth mentioning, but it doesn’t mean I won’t think twice the next time I share something with friends and co-workers via email.
Posted by Matt Holden on Aug 07, 2014