In a recent article, the New York Times tells the story of a father who attempted to seek telemedicine treatment for his son amid the coronavirus pandemic, sending photos of his son to the doctor for inspection at the doctor’s office request. Google flagged the images as child pornography, deactivated his account and reported it to the police.
The New York Times reports that during the pandemic, many healthcare professionals have introduced telemedicine options, conducting consultations for patients via video calls, text messages and photos.
The NYT tells the story of a man, simply named Mark to preserve his anonymity, who in February 2021 noticed that his son appeared to be suffering from a medical condition affecting his genitals which were swollen and painful. Mark’s wife called a nurse consultant from her health care provider and scheduled an emergency consultation via video.
The nurse asked Mark and his wife to send photos of the medical problem to the doctor in advance so that he could review them before the consultation. Mark and his wife did, using their iPhone to take pictures of their child’s genitals.
The doctor quickly diagnosed the problem and prescribed antibiotics which cured the problem. But just two days after taking the photos of his son, Mark received a notification on his phone saying his account had been deactivated due to “harmful content” which was “a serious violation of Google policies. and may be illegal”. A link titled “find out more” directed him to a list of possible reasons, including “child sexual abuse and exploitation”.
Mark immediately filled out a form requesting a review of Google’s decision and explaining his son’s medical condition. But soon Mark discovered that not only had he lost access to his emails, contact details of his friends and former colleagues, and documentation of the early years of his son’s life, but also the closure of his Google Fi account, which meant he had to get a new phone number with another carrier.
A few days later, Google replied that it would not restore his account. Later, Mark learned that Google had also flagged a video he made and the San Francisco Police Department had begun investigating him.
The NYT writes:
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 under investigation as well as copies of search warrants served on Google and its internet service provider. An investigator, whose contact details were provided, had requested everything about Mark’s Google account: his internet searches, location history, messages and any documents, photos and videos he had stored with the company.
The search, linked to “child exploitation videos”, had taken place in February, less than a week after the photos of her son were taken. Mark called the investigator, Nicholas Hillard, who declared the case closed. Mr Hillard had tried to get in touch with Mark but his phone number and email address had not worked.
“I have determined that the incident did not meet the elements of a felony and that no felony occurred,” Hillard wrote in his report. The police had access to all the information Google had on Mark and decided it was not child abuse or exploitation.
Mark asked if Mr Hillard could tell Google he was innocent so he could get his account back. “You need to talk to Google,” Hillard said, according to Mark. “There is nothing I can do.”
Learn more about the New York Times here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering free speech and online censorship issues. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan