The Problem With Using "Free" Online Services: Random Censorship

Laura used Picasa to share photographs of her mastectomy with members of her support group, as well as family and friends. Now they’re gone, deleted without warning because some anonymous jackass flagged them as inappropriate. [Update: Pics are back up! Google apologized and reinstated the entire album, along with comments.] The first problem with this is that it’s hard to figure out which category of “inappropriate” surgical pictures fall under: obscenity, pornography, promotions of hate, incitement of violence, spam, malicious code, or viruses?

[Here’s the rest of the original post.] The second problem is that, instead of temporarily locking her pics away from public view or otherwise disabling them, Google removed them entirely from its servers, including all the comments and corresponding sense of community that had been built up around them. This is why you should never trust a corporation to be the primary steward of your personal info, and why we distrust services like Google Docs for anything more than temporary uses.

Here’s what Laura received from Google after the photos were deleted:

Please be advised that we have recently received reports that inappropriate content has been posted to your Picasa Web Albums account. One or more photos displayed in your gallery violates our Program Policies and has been removed.

Our Policies state that images displayed on cannot contain obscenity, pornography, promotions of hate, incitement of violence, or spam, malicious code, or viruses. Please note that if you continue to violate these Program Policies, we may suspend your Picasa Web Albums account.

Laura writes, “They didn’t even give me a notice so I could save them or take them down myself. They’re just gone.”

I looked at their policy & the only thing I can think of that they must think I violated was nudity. Not even all of my pictures showed the chest area; some of them were just closeups of incisions, drains, and stuff. But they zapped the whole album. There aren’t even any nipples in my pictures!!!

And I even had a warning on the click-through to the album saying these are post-surgery pictures, they may be disturbing, etc.

Amazingly, I was able to find plenty of pictures of ‘normal’ breasts on Picasa, some that show nipples, some where the nipple is barely concealed by a hand or clothes or something.

Some friends suggested Picasa might still have backups of my captions and comments. I have sent a letter asking for my stuff back, and I posted this info to my breast cancer support community in case they want to remove or backup their own albums.

My husband called Google’s main telephone number and got an operator who would only give him the email address of the Google legal department. He would not give us even the name of anyone who works in the legal department, any contact info for the public relations department, or indeed, even his own name. Just that he was a “general operator.” I don’t understand the secrecy. Isn’t this a publicly-traded company?

(Thanks to Laura!)
(Photo: Getty)