Can Google Falsely Flag Child Abuse?

October 10, 2022
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Those Falsely Accused of Child Abuse.
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Those Falsely Accused of Child Abuse.

Computers allow people to connect on social media platforms, find useful information, and work from home. People can send private messages and photos, store personal files, participate in meetings or classrooms, and chat live. In a rather brief period of time, computers have integrated into the daily lives of most people across the globe, connecting us all.

Unfortunately, computers also allow the tech companies to know what their users are up to, creating controversies about privacy and the value of personal information. Through advances in technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms, tech companies like Google and Facebook can use sophisticated technology to see what you, the consumer, are doing.

The problem that arises from this is the question of whether tech companies have the right to your information and activity. Consumer privacy rights and censorship that have recently stayed in public conversations about the potential overreach of tech companies. One of the most problematic issues of late is the use of AI to flag child abuse.

Although the use of technology by law enforcement to catch child abusers and pedophiles is a good idea in theory, a computer error could ruin an innocent person’s life. That is why it is important to understand how tech companies use AI embedded with complex algorithms to retrieve information that could end up in an investigation and false allegations.

What Are Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence?

An algorithm is a complex set of coded directives that are designed to recognize specific triggers of communication that take place via the internet. For example, an algorithm could be programmed to flag every person that googles a specific drug.

AI uses a set of algorithms to think on its own by modifying its existing algorithms and creating new ones. In other words, AI technology allows a device to think on its feet, which is where the term “artificial intelligence” originates.

How Are Tech Companies Involved in the Business of Investigating Crimes?

It is not a secret that tech companies have been collecting consumer information for quite some time. Most internet users see this practice as par for the course. Tech Companies continually collect and analyze data to evaluate possible consumer needs and monetize them. In other words, collecting consumer data turns a profit.

Nevertheless, collecting data for monetary purposes is not the only intention of these mega companies. AI could also be used for censoring sensitive material, cancelling access to unfavorable users, and helping law enforcement catch potential criminals.

Unfortunately, with participation in the crime business comes mistakes, and some mistakes could be catastrophic. Even the most sophisticated law enforcement agencies sometimes make mistakes, as history has shown, but flagging potential predators using AI could be showing itself as a recipe for disaster.

In short, internet users are constantly having their messages, photos, chats, and photos examined by AI designed to weed out child abusers. When certain data has been flagged, such as suspicious photos or messages, an evaluation is made by employees of that company and action is either taken or not taken.

The tech companies using this technology often check data against government databases, contacting officials or law enforcement agencies if something looks like a further investigation is warranted. Tech Companies, however, have failed to provide an adequate explanation as to what qualifies them to execute this complex task with reasonable efficiency.

A problem that is not too difficult to foresee is that any mistake in evaluation could result in falsely accusing a person of child abuse. It does not take much thought as to what the ramifications of such a mistake could cost a person who is the recipient of such an accusation.

Not much is known about the intricacies of the flagging process that sees cooperation between the police and tech companies, but the process is continuous and ubiquitous, nonetheless. The term for what companies are looking for is Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), and although in theory the effort to stop such behavior is commendable, the actual practice of the process is flawed.

Have There Been Instances of False Accusations Reported?

Although it cannot be stated just how many false accusations of child abuse have been made about CSAM flagging, they do happen. In a recent New York Times article, it was reported that two fathers were flagged by Google for potential child abuse, the result of which was to share the information with police in both cases.

What began the incident was that each father had a child with a genital infection and was asked by medical professionals to take photos. Both fathers complied, and that led to a troubling investigation and loss of privacy.

In both instances, the parents were investigated by both the police and Google. Although the police cleared both sets of parents, Google conducted their own investigation, examining all photos on file of one set of the parents. In the end, their account was closed, and their data and photos were never retrieved.

What Other Potential Harm Could False CSAM-Flagging Cause?

It is difficult enough to imagine being investigated for child abuse without proper justification, but there are much greater consequences than being locked out of a Google account. Child abuse allegations in a divorce, for instance, could cost time and money, not to mention run the gamut of medical procedures that could have effects on both parents and children.

Such allegations could result in a judge’s order for medical and mental health examinations of any child involved. Family protective services could also get involved, scrutinizing a family’s everyday life. The result of these procedures is almost always a difficult time for the family.

A DCPP investigation could lead to problems at work. No one wants to be seen as a potential child abuser, and the issue going public beyond the confines of trusted friends and family and into the workplace could cause problems that may be too difficult to fully resolve without damage to one’s professional and personal reputation.

South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Those Falsely Accused of Child Abuse.

If you or a loved one have been investigated or falsely accused of child abuse for any reason, you need a serious and competent lawyer. Our experienced South Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker will work hard to provide you with the legal representation you deserve to resolve your case. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients in Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees, and throughout South Jersey.

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