Despite a police investigation that found him innocent, Google never agreed to reactivate the father’s account. He is not alone in this matter.
A US father had his Google account deleted after sending pictures of his toddler’s genitals to a doctor during a medical appointment via video conference. He was also the subject of a police investigation, the US daily reports Tea New York Times.
After discovering a possible infection in his child, Mark and his wife decide in February 2021 to quickly contact a doctor. The agreement is made for the next day, but in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be done via a video call. In this context, the couple takes a series of snapshots of their newborn’s penis to send them, using a messaging system dedicated to the health system, to their general practitioner, who will examine them before the appointment.
The child is quickly cured, but because of the transferred images, Mark is concerned by Google, but also by the police, suspected of participating in the trade in child pornography.
Excluded from Google
The digital giant deletes his account two days after the photos were taken, reports New York Times. In the email warning the father, Google refers to “offensive content” which represents a “serious violation of Google policy and may be illegal”. In this message, a list of possible reasons is detailed, including “sexual abuse and exploitation of children”.
Google services actually have an image detection system that can identify child pornography images. In particular, this analysis is performed when users remotely activate the backup function for their photos, for example with the Google Photos application.
The images are first reviewed by an automated system and then, if one is flagged, by a human. Two steps that did not prevent misinterpretation.
Under US law, any image found by Google’s system is immediately reported to the CyberTipline, a cell of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mark was therefore the subject of a police investigation.
As part of deleting his Google account, Mark lost all his emails, his contact information, but also the photos of his son’s first moments. The subscriber to Google’s phone service, Google Fi, Mark also had to decide to take out a subscription with another operator.
A similar case
Upon learning of these consequences, Mark issued a reactivation request to Google two days later, which resulted in a denial “without explanation” from the digital giant.
The same two months ago, in June 2022, when he received a notification that his account was permanently deleted. Mark has since abandoned a long and expensive legal process he had considered against the digital giant.
San Francisco police have been more conciliatory toward the family man. In December 2021, when Mark receives a letter from the authorities telling him what the investigation is about, the officer dedicated to his case tells him that the case is closed as no crime has been identified.
that New York Times indicates that Mark is not the only one who has experienced this situation. Another father who lives in Texas found himself in a similar situation after sending pictures of his child to their doctor. If the police investigation he was subject to was quickly resolved, he was also never able to recover his Google account.
While these various cases highlight the effectiveness of Google’s detection system, they also point to the limits of artificial intelligence that does not have human oversight. In 2021, the detection tool reported more than 600,000 images linked to child pornography content and deleted 270,000 user accounts at the same time.