Wednesday, August 23, 2017 by Ethan Huff
A well-known and highly-cited professor of statistics has issued a public letter of outrage and concern over disturbing actions recently taken by tech giant Google, which terminated his website, email, contacts and all other Google-related products without warning or explanation.
An adjunct professor at both Columbia and Georgetown Universities, Salil Mehta specializes in teaching probability and data science. He’s been doing this for free via Google’s online platforms for many years now, until recently when Google decided to memory hole the entirety of Mehta’s work for supposedly violating its terms of service (TOS).
When he asked Google what he did that violated its TOS Mehta was basically told by Google to review them himself and figure it out. Mehta was also told that he would not be allowed to reinstate his Google accounts because of these elusive violations, which he says he can’t figure out because he’s never published anything even remotely controversial.
In his own words, Mehta recalls his sense of surprise after trying to log onto Google one day only to realize that his accounts were no longer there.
“On Friday afternoon East Coast Time by surprise, I was completely shut down in all my Google accounts (all of my gmail accounts, blog, all of my university pages that were on google sites, etc.) for no reason and no warning,” Mehta wrote in his letter. (Related: Censorship by large tech companies like Google is becoming increasingly common. Read the latest at Censorship.news.)
Mehta’s letter further highlights the threat of technocratic lynch mobs shutting down content on a whim, and how this represents a major threat to democracy. He’s calling on Google to offer an explanation as to his content’s removal, which is read by a broad audience, including many industry and government leaders.
“My ads-free blog itself is a probability theory site, with 27 million reads and has somewhere near 150k overall followers,” he says. “It’s been read by Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Nobel Laureates, multiple governments, celebrity athletes around the world, deans of many universities (on the syllabi of same), and a number of TV news anchors.”
Mehta’s experience with Google seems to be a growing trend with many tech companies that wield enormous control over people’s lives. We’ve seen the same type of thing with Facebook, which has reportedly begun silencing opposing voices and even blocking certain news content.
It’s a slippery slope towards total censorship, and one with disturbing ramifications when considering how deeply embedded companies like Facebook and Google have gotten in people’s lives. There’s perhaps never been a better time for folks to start using their own private email accounts and websites hosted independently from companies like Google.
That’s probably what Mehta is thinking right about now, having had to watch his entire repository of work be flushed down the digital drain without cause. He’s made his case and publicly stated that this move by Google represents yet another bad decision levied against a good guy rather than a bad guy, calling into question the motives behind why Google does what it does.
“Can they not differentiate me from an evil person?” Mehta asks in his letter.
“Can they not see the large and reputable people and institutions that have relied on my work? Do they have better people who can coach them on how to make decisions with much better taste and finesse? What’s next, all CEOs and professors and politicians are going to be shut down from social media whenever it is least expected? Overnight hi-tech lynching squads are a thing of the past. We can’t have kangaroo courts and hope to lead with moral authority.”
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