communication, complaints, News, technology

Google nightmare reminds man that Big Brother is always watching…

Last night, I read a frightening New York Times article about a San Francisco dad named Mark whose life has been upended over photos he took of his naked toddler son. I know that on the surface, it sounds like Mark’s life should have been upended. Nobody should be taking naked kid pics, right?

But what if it was in the middle of a pandemic? What if the photos were necessary for a doctor to see what was wrong with the boy, whose penis was swollen and hurting him? That’s the situation Mark was in, back in February 2021, when the COVID pandemic was routinely killing people apace. That was when people were being encouraged not to congregate indoors if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. When Mark’s son needed help, it was also a Friday night. His wife had called a nurse’s advice line to schedule an emergency telemedicine consult for the next morning. The nurse had told her to take photos of the infection and send them to the physician for review.

As requested, Mark’s wife took the pictures on Mark’s phone, then sent them to her iPhone, so she could upload them to the doctor’s messaging system. Under those circumstances, she didn’t realize that the photos might be seen by anyone other than the healthcare professionals who were entrusted to take care of her toddler’s very real medical problem.

The pediatrician received the photos, examined them, diagnosed the child’s medical problem, and prescribed antibiotics. The toddler quickly recovered without further incident. Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends. The naked toddler’s photos tripped Google’s screening system and were flagged by “an algorithmic net designed to snare people exchanging child sexual abuse material.” The end result is that Mark lost over a decade of contacts, emails and photos. He also became the target of a police investigation. 

A couple of days after the photos were taken, Mark’s phone made strange noises. It was then that he realized that Google had flagged his account because of “‘harmful content’ that was ‘a severe violation of Google’s policies and might be illegal.’ A ‘learn more’ link led to a list of possible reasons, including ‘child sexual abuse & exploitation.'” Mark was surprised and confused, but then remembered the photos of his son’s genitals. Realizing that Google’s screening system probably flagged the photos and labeled them as abusive, Mark thought that eventually a human being would review them and let him off the hook.

Still, being flagged by Google wasn’t a small inconvenience. Mark’s whole online life, including his cell phone plan, was through the company. He filled out a form requesting that Google review the decision. He explained that his son had an infection, and he had only taken those photos so that the doctor could diagnose him properly. But because Google had shut down his cell phone plan, Mark had to get a new phone number from another carrier. And then, because he couldn’t access his old phone number or email address, he couldn’t get the security codes that would let him access his other accounts.

A few days after Mark asked Google to reconsider their decision, he received a flat denial from them, with no further explanation. The company had also flagged a video Mark made and sent everything to the San Francisco Police Department. He was already under investigation by the police and didn’t even know it. In December 2021, Mark received a letter from the San Francisco Police Department informing him that he had been under investigation. The envelope included copies of search warrants, as well as other documentation generated by the investigation. The investigator’s name was included, so Mark called him. The investigator, whose name was Nicholas Hillard, told Mark that he’d tried to get in touch with him. But… his phone number and email address didn’t work. Go figure!

Fortunately, Mr. Hillard told Mark that the case against him was closed. He had looked at the evidence Google sent him and determined that no crime had taken place. The police did not consider the photos and video abusive or exploitative. So, at least Mark would not be arrested… but, when he asked Mr. Hillard to tell Google he wasn’t a criminal, Mr. Hillard said that there was nothing he could do to help Mark get his online life back from Google.

So Mark appealed to Google again, this time sending them the police report that exonerated him. But Google still wouldn’t budge. In fact, they sent him a message letting him know that his account was being permanently deleted. Mark contacted a lawyer to ask about suing Google, but when he was told it would cost at least $7000, Mark decided the lawsuit wasn’t worth the money. And even though it’s been proven that the photos and the video were not abusive or exploitative, Google refuses to reconsider.

The article included a story about another man who was wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child due to intimate photos on his phone that were taken out of context by Google’s AI system. The other man faced similar repercussions, and basically lost his online life because of artificial intelligence that flagged photos that weren’t taken for abusive or exploitative purposes. For some reason, the HUMANS at Google are incapable of discernment, and fail to see that while the technology they use is very valuable for preventing child abuse, it also poses serious privacy issues and potentially ruins innocent people’s lives.

Mark says that the police department has his information on a thumb drive, and he’s hoping they will give a copy to him. The police department says they are “eager to help him”, which sounds like good news. But according to the article, it’s “easier” for Google to just deny people in Mark’s situation access to their services, rather than exercise discernment. In other words, too bad, so sad. I hope Mark changes his mind and sues. Maybe he and the other guy, both victimized and treated unfairly by Google, can team up and sue. What happened to them isn’t right.

And now, a loosely connected rant…

Naturally, a lot of people had comments about this situation. Many of the comments came from people chiming in, even though they hadn’t read the article and simply reacted to the headline. As my regular readers know, this is one of my pet peeves. Especially when they also complain about paywalls, and make a statement like “I think journalism should be freely open to everyone.”

That sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? Until you realize that newspapers are in business, and the people who provide the news have to eat, too. Most people can’t and don’t want to work for free. This was an excellent investigative article by reporter, Kashmir Hill, for The New York Times. Below is a screenshot of Hill’s information page on the newspaper’s Web site.

I see that Ms. Hill is a graduate of two fine private universities. She is based in New York City, which is not a cheap city to live in. She’s a successful and experienced journalist. She probably owes student loans, too. Delivering the news is a very important job, but newspapers are in decline. Why? Because people don’t want to pay for subscriptions and expect that the news ought to be “free”. But you get what you pay for, right? Someone has to pay the bills.

Even if the news is “free” for everyone, someone still has to pay expenses. So– they either get paid for by taxes, which most Americans would prefer to keep as low as possible, or they get paid by wealthy people who have their own agendas to push. That means people like Donald Trump or George Soros… or Jeff Bezos, who already owns The Washington Post, or Bill Gates… or Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News and other news publishing outlets. The New York Times is not a cheap publication, but it’s not owned by the likes of Bezos, Murdoch, or Trump. It’s owned by The New York Times Company, which is publicly traded. How would the paper change if it was purchased by a politically affiliated billionaire with an agenda to push?

I have repeatedly stated that I subscribe to several newspapers, ranging from local publications like The Gazette Journal in my Virginia hometown, to The Irish Times. Yes, it costs money, but we can afford to pay, and I am grateful to have access to the news from excellent and reputable sources. The newspapers help me create content for this blog and keep me engaged in the world. I know not everyone wants or needs to pay for newspaper subscriptions, but I also think that if you’re going to comment on something in the news, you should know what you’re writing about. At least take a moment to read comments made by people who did read before spouting off ignorance. And have some respect for the journalists who took the time and spent the money to get trained to deliver the news properly.

Journalists– especially the ones who bravely go into harm’s way and/or cover difficult or challenging topics– help keep us free by reporting the unbiased truth. Isn’t that interesting? Paying for a newspaper subscription and supporting journalism, rather than expecting it for free, will help keep all of us free. Think about that.

And now, for a funny anecdote involving The Irish Times.

I have been a subscriber for a few years. I don’t read The Irish Times as much as I should, even though the journalism is excellent and offers an interesting perspective. The paper covers US news, but naturally, most of it is about Ireland and Irish issues. And sometimes, a reporter will cover a really unique topic. The other day, I read a poignant piece about a man who realized that his power garden tools were killing machines for the creatures who dwelled there. The thought never occurred to him until he noticed a headless frog, accidentally decapitated by his weed whacker. The guy wrote that he immediately decided to buy new tools that weren’t powered in hopes of sparing the wildlife. I don’t think I would have read something like that in a US paper.

Anyway, The Irish Times also has an advice column, and yesterday, I read a letter a young mom wrote to the advice columnist. The troubled woman explained that before she had her baby, her husband regularly wanted to have at least an hour of sex, preceded by showering and shaving. The mom wrote that her baby is very needy, and she simply doesn’t have the time or stamina to give in her husband’s demands for extended sex sessions.

The comments on this were hilarious, but one in particular was hysterical. A man wrote:

My wife and I have an hour long sex session every week by playing doctor and patient. She’s the doctor and makes me wait outside the door for 55 minutes before I can have 5 minutes with her.

At this writing, his comment has 819 likes and laugh reactions. I responded:

I’m an American, but I subscribe to The Irish Times just so I can read Irish witticisms. (62 likes!)

And the guy came back and wrote:

We’re great at taking the piss out of ourselves. That’s not true about my wife. She’s actually an Olympic Performer……….. Once every 4 years!

To which I replied, “In that case, my husband and I are also Olympic contenders.”

See? Besides the news, when you subscribe to a paper, you also get witty comments from other people who read! Of course, the quality of the comments tends to be commensurate to the paper’s readership. I used to be a Wall Street Journal subscriber, but I got rid of it when I realized it was much too conservative for me, and I never used the subscription. And then I had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get rid of the subscription, which I ranted about in this blog some time ago.

Well, I think I’ve prattled on long enough. I need to practice guitar and walk the dogs. I hope you have a good Monday. And if you don’t already subscribe to a newspaper and have the means, please give it some consideration. The papers need your support, and the rest of us don’t want to read your erroneous and misled reactions to headlines.

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communication, Ex, family, narcissists, psychology

“Don’t lose touch with the important people in your life…”

Good morning, everybody. I had quite an interesting dream in the wee hours of the morning, just after Arran woke us up to be fed, at about 4:00 AM. Somehow, I managed to get back to sleep, and I soon found myself in a weird place in Asia, with Bill. I dreamt that we both got COVID, but it wasn’t a very bad case. We were over it quickly, and soon entering a familiar building, as in I felt like I’d been there before, or seen it before. It was deja vu in a dream. I don’t remember much else, except that I do know that the actor/musician/Facebooker Robbie Rist was also in the dream. He had bought a portable storefront building, which he’d had delivered to Key West, Florida. This is some random stuff, I know. I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it was the tequila I drank last night.

It’s Thursday, which means I have to vacuum. I did some furniture rearranging yesterday, too. I moved our new wine/riddling rack into our dining room, and rolled away a kitchen cart that had served a purpose in our previous house. It’s now sitting in our foyer, next to another kitchen cart I bought for that house. In the old house, the two carts fit. In this house, they don’t fit so well and look out of place, although we do need the cabinet space and drawers they offer. We don’t have enough dedicated storage space in this house. German homes don’t usually have closets, which is a real pain.

I’ve always hoped to have my own house that I might make my own somehow, but we’ve moved so many times over the past twenty years, that it’s really hard to arrange that. So I have a hodgepodge of stuff, some of which has been in storage in Texas since 2014 and is probably in bad shape, thanks to the intensity of Texas heat. The storage facility is supposed to be temperature controlled, but that might not mean anything in a state with the power grid Texas has.

Somehow, I always figured I’d be living differently than I do, with connections to people and maybe a connection to one or two places. But I finally got the military nomadic lifestyle I missed out on by being born so late in my dad’s Air Force career. It’s not always a bad thing. It gives me a chance to see a lot. Like, for instance, sketchy tweets by a certain ex…

This week, I noticed that Ex posted a tweet with some surface wisdom in it. Part of it serves as today’s post title. She was having an exchange on Twitter with someone… I don’t know if this is a person she knows offline. Knowing her, it’s probably a stranger to whom she’s ingratiated herself. It looks like they have a love of a certain television show as their common thread. The person Ex was tweeting to is not a native English speaker, and a couple of weeks ago, she wrote that she had just said goodbye to someone. Ex had responded at the time, writing that her “best friend” had died a year ago, and she “[doesn’t] yet know how to live without her”.

Then she added another comment that gave me pause: “Be brave; everything will be ok. If you are more than friends… chase him down and pounce on him like a Tigger, though!!!!”

Yikes… for one thing, I cringe at the name, Tigger. You see, I once had a college roommate who went by that nickname. She was extremely loud, dramatic, and obnoxious– even worse than I am. She had super long, thick hair, and she used to swing it back and forth everywhere, dropping long strands of hair all over our dorm room. She was very much an attention seeker who was kind of fake. She also wasn’t much for showering, for some reason. Mary Beth, if you’re reading this, you know exactly of whom I write.

My ex roommate, Tigger, and I didn’t get along, and I’m sorry to say that my experience with her left me a bit traumatized, to the point of being kind of put off by a different woman I met a few years later who really reminded me of her. I wasn’t very nice to Tigger, or the other woman who reminded me of her. I did eventually apologize to the other woman… which was a shock to her. I genuinely felt badly about my annoyance, since it really wasn’t her fault that she bore such a strong resemblance to my ex roommate. And yet, I was also left legitimately scarred by my living experience with Tigger in college. In fairness, I probably traumatized Tigger, too. We just didn’t mesh at all. I do try to do better now. I don’t spend much time with people anymore. Anyway, that has nothing to do with Ex, except that it’s kind of strange that Ex would use that character– Tigger– to advise her online friend… It’s very cringey.

Oh my GOD. I’m more like Eeyore, myself. That’s probably why “Tigger” and I didn’t mesh.

For another thing, Ex kind of did what she advises her “friend” to do. She tracked down Bill in the late 80s, after her first husband ran into him on a military flight from Germany to the States. Ex, #1, and Bill all went to high school together, so they knew each other before the Army. When #1 told Ex that he’d run into Bill, she found out where he was in Germany and showed up on his doorstep with ex stepson, who was a toddler at the time.

Ex gave Bill the rush– pouncing on him, and taking advantage of his kind nature, inexperience with women, and vulnerability. She bowled him over with positive regard, attention, and manic energy. Next, she convinced Bill that #1 was an abusive asshole. Bill believed her, and decided to become a “white knight”. It didn’t occur to him, back then, that one day, she’d falsely tell #3 that Bill had abused her, too. We’re still dealing with the aftermath of Ex’s decision to chase down Bill and “pounce” on him like Tigger. (eeeew)

Anyway, Ex’s online friend thanked her, then praised her for being “so sweet”. Then she offered Ex her friendship, since Ex’s bestie had died, adding that her friend who had said goodbye was more like a brother to her. He left to make a better life for himself, so she accepted that he needed to do for himself.

It took Ex over two weeks to respond to her new online “friend”. But, when she finally did, this is what she wrote:

I understand that… you can still stay in touch! Don’t lose contact with the important people in your life, even if you only talk to them once in a #StrawberryMoon.

This advice doesn’t seem unreasonable. But then I ponder what Ex has actually done in her life. She’s divorced two men, having falsely accused both of them of horrific abuse. She’s forced her children to change their surnames and denied them access to their natural fathers. Two of her children have moved far away from her and actively avoid talking to her. One of her children doesn’t even call her “mom” in front of her kids, because she doesn’t want her mother to influence her children. And, based on Ex’s Twitter handle, it looks like she doesn’t even know that her latest grandchild has been born.

Once again, I caveat that, technically, none of this is any of my business, and I probably shouldn’t be looking at this stuff… Except I do, because Ex really doesn’t lose contact with “the important people” in her life. And by that, I mean she stays in contact with the families of her exes, even if she doesn’t talk to the exes themselves. However, when she “hoovers”, it’s not because she genuinely wants to be friends or family. It’s because she wants or “needs” something. Because I pay attention to what she does, I often catch her doing stuff she shouldn’t be doing, especially to people in Bill’s family.

For instance, Ex got in touch with #1’s family in 2009, when she decided to get ex stepson back in touch with his “abusive” father. She did that, not for generous or altruistic reasons, but to get back at Bill for allowing me to write her an email that gave her a severe narcissistic injury. In that email, I pointed out that she regularly emotionally abuses her children by forcing them to divorce their fathers. So, she retaliated by talking ex stepson into secretly changing his last name to what it was originally, and getting him in touch with his “real” dad, who never paid child support after Bill “replaced” him. Ex stepson was found out, and that resulted in his losing out on most of the last year of “child support” (for a 21 year old), and destroying the relationship with Bill. Actually, that was his choice. Bill would happily talk to his ex stepson anytime. Also, I suspect that the relationship would have been ruined, anyway, since it appears that ex stepson was only interested in money.

More recently, she got back in touch with Bill’s bereaved stepmother, showing up at her house with Bill’s long lost older daughter in tow, as well as her daughter with #3. She wasn’t there just to visit, though. She was there because she wanted money and “stuff”, even going as far as giving SMIL packaging materials so she could box up things to send to Ex– “to pass down” (or sell on eBay). Ex doesn’t have any shame, and she never forgets a previous source of supply. So she always shows up again, somehow. I feel pretty certain that if I were to divorce Bill or die, she would try to make nice with him. She is very practiced at trying to get back into people’s good graces, even when she’s practically blown up proverbial bridges with dynamite!

I know I shouldn’t be surprised that Ex knows what the “right” thing to say or write is. She’s always willing to “make amends”. It sounds wise not to lose touch with the “important” people in one’s life. And her two ex husbands, no doubt, were important people in her life, so she doesn’t lose touch… even if she doesn’t actually speak to them. Like most narcissists, she uses other people to do the dirty work. She stayed in touch with people in #1’s family and used him to hurt Bill when he dared to defy her orders. And she’s stayed in contact with Bill’s stepmother, so she can keep tabs on Bill and exploit her for money, material goods, and narcissistic supply. You can bet it will happen again, as long as these folks allow her any contact.

I could ignore her, like I did for years… but either way, she really won’t be ignored. As long as younger daughter is talking to Bill, she will be around… So like it or not, we will have to stay vigilant. Kind of like June in The Handmaid’s Tale.

“You will never be free of me.”
“You don’t deserve to make amends to anyone.”

But she also stays in touch with celebrities… and she has no shame about asking them for stuff, too…

…could you please share with anyone you think might be interested in helping us. Our next expenditure will be a service puppy’s training. I found a place to get a puppy (I hope), but need to pay $12k for the training! Och aye!!!! Our needs are great & friends few.

and

Can you help Autistic wanderer NEEDS fence on the Generosity Network? Every little bit helps!

and

Congratulations on this honor! Coach Sam, could you please, please, please, recommend a point of contact at the conservatory for my daughter who wants to do a study abroad in acting and learning to do more types of voices?

and

Puppy breath is the BEST!!! I cannot wait until we can afford to get a service puppy for my autistic son!!! I know it will be life changing. I just know it!

I really hope she doesn’t get a puppy. I know what happens to living beings who are under her care. They all end up abused and eventually discarded… then hoovered. Fortunately, I also know that most of her big ideas are either overcome by events, or usurped by other shiny passions and whims. That gives me some comfort about the puppy, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s sketchy as hell. When she tries to “stay in touch” or “make amends”, it’s never for friendship or familial love. It’s because people are tools for her agenda. It’s a chilling thought, isn’t it? Makes me cringe.

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