“The nurse said to send photos so the doctor could review them in advance,” the New York Times reports, decribing how an ordeal began in February of 2021 for a software engineer named Mark who had a sick son:
Mark’s wife grabbed her husband’s phone and texted a few high-quality close-ups of their son’s groin area to her iPhone so she could upload them to the health care provider’s messaging system. In one, Mark’s hand was visible, helping to better display the swelling. Mark and his wife gave no thought to the tech giants that made this quick capture and exchange of digital data possible, or what those giants might think of the images. With help from the photos, the doctor diagnosed the issue and prescribed antibiotics, which quickly cleared it up….
Two days after taking the photos of his son, Mark’s phone made a blooping notification noise: His account had been disabled because of “harmful content” that was “a severe violation of Google’s policies and might be illegal.” A “learn more” link led to a list of possible reasons, including “child sexual abuse & exploitation….” He filled out a form requesting a review of Google’s decision, explaining his son’s infection. At the same time, he discovered the domino effect of Google’s rejection. Not only did he lose emails, contact information for friends and former colleagues, and documentation of his son’s first years of life, his Google Fi account shut down, meaning he had to get a new phone number with another carrier. Without access to his old phone number and email address, he couldn’t get the security codes he needed to sign in to other internet accounts, locking him out of much of his digital life….
A few days after Mark filed the appeal, Google responded that it would not reinstate the account, with no further explanation. Mark didn’t know it, but Google’s review team had also flagged a video he made and the San Francisco Police Department had already started to investigate him…. In December 2021, Mark received a manila envelope in the mail from the San Francisco Police Department. It contained a letter informing him that he had been investigated as well as copies of the search warrants served on Google and his internet service provider. An investigator, whose contact information was provided, had asked for everything in Mark’s Google account: his internet searches, his location history, his messages and any document, photo and video he’d stored with the company. The search, related to “child exploitation videos,” had taken place in February, within a week of his taking the photos of his son.
Mark called the investigator, Nicholas Hillard, who said the case was closed. Mr. Hillard had tried to get in touch with Mark but his phone number and email address hadn’t worked….
Mark appealed his case to Google again, providing the police report, but to no avail…. A Google spokeswoman said the company stands by its decisions…
“The day after Mark’s troubles started, the same scenario was playing out in Texas,” the Times notes, quoting a technologist at the EFF who speculates other people experiencing the same thing may not want to publicize it. “There could be tens, hundreds, thousands more of these.”
Reached for a comment on the incident, Google told the newspaper that “Child sexual abuse material is abhorrent and we’re committed to preventing the spread of it on our platforms.”