In February of last year, Google’s algorithms wrongly flagged photos taken by two fathers in two different states as being images of child abuse. In both cases, the fathers—one in San Francisco, one in Houston—had small children with infections on their genitals, and had taken photos of the area at the request of medical professionals.
Google’s algorithms, and the employees who oversee them, had a different opinion about the photos. Without informing either parent, Google reported them to the government. That resulted in local police departments investigating the parents.
The company also chose to perform its own investigation. In the case of Mark, the San Francisco father, Google employees looked at not just the photo that had been flagged by their mistaken AI, but his entire collection of family and friend photos.
Google has a right to decide which users it wants to host. But it was Google’s incorrect algorithms, and Google’s failed human review process, which caused innocent people to be investigated by the police in these cases. It was also Google’s choice to destroy without warning and without due process these fathers’ email accounts, videos, photos, and in one case, telephone service. The consequences of the company’s error are not trivial.