Despite a police investigation that found him innocent, Google never agreed to reactivate the father’s account. He is not the only one in this case.
An American father had his Google account deleted after sending photos of his young child’s genitals to a doctor during a videoconference medical appointment. He was also the subject of a police investigation, reports the American daily The New York Times.
After detecting a possible infection in his child, in February 2021, Mark and his wife decide to quickly contact a doctor. The appointment is made for the next day, but in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be via a video call. In this context, the couple takes a series of snapshots of their newborn’s penis to send them, by means of a messaging system dedicated to the health system, to their practitioner, who will examine them before the appointment.
The child is quickly cured, but because of the photos transmitted, Mark finds himself worried by Google but also by the police, suspected of taking part in trafficking in child pornography.
Banned from Google
The digital giant deletes its account two days after the photos were taken, reports the 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 potential reasons is detailed, among which “sexual abuse and exploitation of children”.
Google services have, in fact, a photo detection system that can identify child pornography photos. This analysis is done in particular when users activate the backup function for their photos remotely, 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 photo found by Google’s system is immediately reported to CyberTipline, a cell of the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mark was therefore the subject of a police investigation.
As part of the deletion of his Google account, Mark lost all his emails, his contact details, but also the photos of his son’s first moments. Subscriber to Google’s telephone service, Google Fi, Mark also had to resolve to take out a subscription with another operator.
A similar case
When he learned of these consequences, two days later, Mark issued a reactivation request to Google, which ended in a refusal “without explanation” from the digital giant.
Same thing two months ago, in June 2022, when he received a notice that his account was permanently deleted. Mark has since waived a long and expensive legal process he had considered against the digital giant.
The San Fransisco police have been more conciliatory with the father of the family. 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.
The New York Times indicates that Mark is not the only one to have experienced this situation. Another father, residing in Texas, found himself in a similar situation, after sending photos of his child to their practitioner. If the police investigation of which he was the subject was quickly resolved, he too was 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 supervision. In 2021, the detection tool reported more than 600,000 images linked to child pornography content, deleting 270,000 user accounts at the same time.