Man cleared by cops after taking medical photo of his kid is still banned by Google

Man cleared by cops after taking medical photo of his kid is still banned by Google
A man, identified only by his first name of Mark by The New York Times (via The Guardian) had his Google accounts shut down after taking medical pictures of his son's groin. The photos were taken because the father thought that his son's groin looked inflamed and he wanted a doctor to diagnose and treat his son. The Doctor did use the image to come up with a diagnosis and he also prescribed a course of antibiotics.

A man takes a photo of his child's groin for medical reasons and ends up labeled a pervert by Google

When the photos were uploaded to the cloud, Google identified them as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) and filed a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This led to a police investigation.

Two days after the photos were uploaded, Google shut down everything under the father's name which included a Google Fi account. The Times report noted that Google called Mark on the phone to tell him that it considered the images of his son to be "harmful content" that was seen as "a severe violation of the company’s policies and might be illegal." The father found out later that Google flagged a video on his phone and the San Francisco police started an investigation.

While Mark was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing, it seems that Google won't reinstate his accounts. Google spokesperson Christa Muldoon said, "We follow U.S. law in defining what constitutes CSAM and use a combination of hash matching technology and artificial intelligence to identify it and remove it from our platforms." While Muldoon said that Google staffers working on CSAM situations are trained by medical experts to look for rashes and other issues in sensitive areas, they are not doctors and medical experts are not brought into every case.

"These companies have access to a tremendously invasive amount of data about people's lives. And still they don’t have the context of what people's lives actually are," said Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a senior staff technologist at the ACLU. He adds that "There's all kinds of things where just the fact of your life is not as legible to these information giants."

Gillmor adds, "And it's not just that I don’t think that these systems can catch every case of child abuse, it's that they have really terrible consequences in terms of false positives for people. People's lives can be really upended by the machinery and the humans in the loop simply making a bad decision because they don’t have any reason to try to fix it."

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Adding some more background information to this story should make it more understandable. The events in this article took place in February 2021 when many doctor's offices were still closed due to COVID. The photos that Mark took were requested by the doctor's nurse. Google, for its part, says that it only scans images when a user takes "affirmative action" which in this case meant uploading the images to Google Photos.

Despite being cleared by law enforcement, Mark still cannot get reinstated by Google

It is important to note that Mark was cleared by the police of committing any crime. Google is required by federal law to report potential offenders to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipLine. Last year, Google reported 621,583 cases to the tip line. Of those cases, 4,260 were passed on to authorities. Mark's case was among them according to The Times.

This whole messy affair certainly seems like an overreach on Google's part, especially after Mark was cleared by the cops. The big question was whether Mark took these photos for sexual gratification and the answer was a resounding "No." Maybe Googlers are too nerdy to father children, or perhaps they are working all day and have no time for their kids. But when you are a father and you notice an issue with your child during a pandemic, you are going to do what it takes to get a diagnosis and treatment for him or her.

Instead, Google took away Mark's access to emails, photos, contacts, and his phone number. Frankly, it's hard to defend Google for continuing its persecution of a man who has not only been found innocent by police but one who obviously cares deeply about his child.

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