When you complain about Google and privacy, please also think about John Henry Skillern

You can make a fairly compelling argument that “privacy” is the issue of the moment in some ways. Everyone’s concerned about how much information is out there about all of us via Google and Facebook and credit card purchases and such-and-such. I agree it’s an issue that big-time organizations could be “spying” on us or giving our information to marketers (who might not use it correctly anyway), but I also think the issue is somewhat overblown: it’s 2014. You have to assume that technology is at a place where things are being tracked. And honestly, just like Larry Page has admitted in terms of the potential benefits of using accumulated data (anonymously, of course) for health care advances, well — there are also other benefits to places like Google seeing what you do. For example, it can prevent child pornographers from operating:

John Henry Skillern was allegedly sending explicit images of a young girl to a friend when Google detected the images and alerted authorities, police say.

“He was trying to get around getting caught, he was trying to keep it inside his email,” said Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce reports the station. “I can’t see that information, I can’t see that photo, but Google can.”

Here’s a bit more context:

Information the firm gathers can be passed on for a number of reasons, including to ‘protect against harm to… our users or the public as required or permitted by law’.

A blog by the firm last year added: ‘The Internet has been a tremendous force for good – increasing access to information, improving people’s ability to communicate and driving economic growth. But like the physical world, there are dark corners on the web where criminal behavior exists.

‘We’re in the business of making information widely available, but there’s certain “information” that should never be created or found.

‘We can do a lot to ensure it’s not available online – and that when people try to share this disgusting content they are caught and prosecuted.’

Skillern worked at a Denny’s and is currently being held on $200,000 bond.

It should also be noted that Google doesn’t scan e-mails for other illegal activities, such as pirated content and hate speech.

Here’s a last little bit of context on this whole discussion:

There will always be the vexing question of whether Google should be the policeman at all.

Google’s argument is that it doesn’t want to reveal too much of what it does because it doesn’t want criminals to know how they might be caught. It’s a convenient argument, one relying wholly on trusting Google, something that has been proved too often to be not necessarily wise.

For Google, it seems that the public good in attempting to eradicate child pornography takes precedence over what some might consider private communication. It’s an argument with inherent dangers.

Ted Bauer