- A father took photos of his sick son's penis upon request by a nurse, The NYT reported.
- Google's anti-child abuse system ultimately flagged the images to the police, per The NYT.
- Police concluded no crime was committed but Google won't unlock the dad's accounts, per The NYT.
A father who photographed his sick son's penis for review by medical professionals was caught by Google's anti-child abuse system and reported to the police, The New York Times reported.
Mark, a former software engineer in San Francisco, whose surname was omitted from The Times' report, said he took the smartphone pictures of his son's painful and swollen penis upon request by a nurse.
Two days later, Mark received a notification on his phone saying his Google account had been disabled because of "harmful content" that was "a severe violation of Google's policies and might be illegal," The Times reported.
Ten months on, Mark received a letter from the San Francisco Police Department saying an investigator had served a search warrant on Google less than a week after Mark took the photos, requesting access to his internet searches, location history, messages, documents, photos, and videos, per The Times. The investigator concluded "no crime occurred," The Times said.
Google said in 2018 it had developed an artificially-intelligent tool to enable it to more quickly detect and remove child sexual abuse material. After being automatically flagged by the AI, photos are reviewed by human moderators, and if they're determined to depict child sexual abuse, Google locks the user's accounts, searches for other exploitative material, and files a report to the the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Mark had been using Google Calendar, backed up his photos to Google Cloud, and had a phone plan with Google Fi — so when his Google account was disabled, he lost emails, contact information, and his cell service, and was thereby locked out of other online accounts because he couldn't receive security codes to his phone, The Times reported.
Mark said he provided the police report to Google in a bid to reactivate his account but was unsuccessful, and was later told his account would be permanently deleted, The Times reported.
Google didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
Claire Lilley, Google's head of child-safety operations, told The Times its reviewers had been taught about instances where photos may have been taken for medical reasons, but in Mark's case, hadn't detected a medical issue, and had separately discovered a video from six months prior showing a young child in bed with a naked woman.
Mark said he couldn't remember the video but told The Times: "If only we slept with pajamas on, this all could have been avoided."
A Google spokesperson told The Times the company stood by its decision to suspend Mark's account.
Google said that in 2021, it made more than 620,000 reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and disabled around 270,000 accounts linked to child sexual abuse content. That year, the nonprofit alerted authorities to more than 4,200 "potential new child victims," including Mark's son.
"Child sexual abuse material is abhorrent and we're committed to preventing the spread of it on our platforms," the company said.