A 41-year-old Texas man was arrested by police after he allegedly attached an inappropriate photograph of a child to an email that was then discovered by Google as part of its ongoing efforts to block child abuse.
The suspect, John Henry Skillern, of Houston, was allegedly trying to email the inappropriate image to a friend, according to a report by Houston television station KHOU Channel 11. When the photo was discovered by Google’s scanning systems, the image was reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which then led to Skillern’s arrest, according to the report.
Google “detected explicit images of a young girl” in an email that Skillern was sending to a friend, and then notified authorities, the report continued. “He was trying to get around getting caught; he was trying to keep it inside his email,” Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce told KHOU. “I can’t see that information, I can’t see that photo, but Google can.”
The suspect is a registered offender who was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old boy in 1994, according to the report. “After obtaining a search warrant, investigators said they found child [images] on Skillern’s phone and tablet device. They also found text messages and e-mails where he talked about his interest in children.”
Google did not reply to several email inquiries from eWEEK on Aug. 4, seeking comment about the incident and the email scanning that resulted in the report to authorities.
Skillern, who was charged with two criminal counts in connection with the incident, is being held on a $200,000 bond, according to KHOU.
Last November, Google announced that it was increasing its fight to block online images of child abuse, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
Google had unveiled plans to fine-tune its search engine to prevent such links from appearing in searches, while hiring more than 200 additional people to find even more ways to put an end to this kind of exploitation. The increased awareness was unveiled by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt in an article that was published in a British newspaper at that time.
The tweaks were made to Google search algorithms to help clean up the results for more than 100,000 queries that might be related to the abuse of kids, according to Schmidt’s article. Also added were on-screen warnings displayed to users when they might conduct searches for these kinds of images using some 13,000 query terms. The warnings come from Google and from other agencies that are battling the problem. The messages make it clear that such images are illegal and offer advice on where to get help.
Engineers at Google’s YouTube online video unit have also created a technology to identify child abuse videos on that service, according to Google.
Since Schmidt’s announcement, Google has been contributing computing expertise to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in Great Britain and to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to help them in the fight against child abuse images.
Google moved to take these additional actions in light of a major sting involving child abuse images in Canada in November 2013 when 348 people were arrested and 386 young children were rescued in one of the largest investigations involving child abuse images ever seen.
Google, Microsoft and other Internet companies have been working with law enforcement agencies for years to fight child abuse images online, according to Google.