Is Google the New Sheriff in Town?

First there was Google Maps, then there was Google Books, and then there was Google Glass. Now, apparently, there’s Google Cops.

Last Wednesday, police in Houston, Texas announced the arrest of 41-year-old John Henry Skillern on the charges of possessing child pornography.

How the police found out about what Skillern was up to might surprise you. Google, using one of its many algorithms, discovered that he was using Gmail to send child porn to friends. The company then alerted the cops, who got a warrant, found the porn on Skillern’s computer, and arrested him.

Now, there’s no question that what John Henry Skillern is accused of doing is disgusting, immoral, and very, very illegal. If he’s found guilty, he deserves whatever punishment the court sees fit to give him.

But still, the fact that Google acted essentially as an arm of law enforcement here is pretty disturbing, and it raises some big questions about privacy and security in a world where pretty much everyone communicates on some sort of digital platform.

After all, while we can all agree that child porn is a bad thing, what would we say if Google tipped off the cops that Skillern was cheating on his wife?

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