Google used Gmail tracking to help catch sex offender who secretly filmed children

Google has revealed the identity of a man storing child abuse images on his Gmail account to police, setting an example to others who may be using their account for illegal activity.

The convicted sex offender was reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who then passed on the details to police in Houston, Texas, according to Khou 11 News.

The man worked as a chef in a popular US fast foodchain, where he is believed to have recorded videos of children entering the restaurant. He then stored these in his Gmail email account, with the red flag appearing when he emailed a friend three explicit pictures of a girl.

Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce explained how Google played an important part in discovering the illegal activity as its software detected the pictures. He said police would never be able to find that data because it can't access email accounts in the same way that Google can.

Officers were then able to get a warrant, collect the suspect's phone and tablet where they discovered text messages and emails including images and information expressing his interest in exploiting children.

Google has previously said it tracks content in emails for illegal activity. It creates 'hashes' that relate to certain pictures of child abuse and scans emails for such content. However, the information is not stored, but passed onto the relevant authorities for further investigation.

Although David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, has previously said it's impossible for the company to catch all incidents of child abuse or child pornography online, the company is "committed to doing everything possible to stop the distribution of this awful content."

However, last year, Netclean's CEO Christian Berg said Google and ISPs won't be able to stop such activity happening.

"People look at Google and the ISPs and say this is a problem of the internet and you're a bit part of the internet, you have to fix it," he explained.

"Obviously, the internet is being used to spread it, but child abuse is really not an internet problem. It's a human one."

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.