Google’s free services are pervasive, but as statistics professor Salil Mehta found out, they come with their own set of pitfalls.
Salil Mehta is an adjunct professor at Columbia, and runs a popular statistics-based blog. On Friday, he discovered that his Blogspot blog — which had 150k subscribers and had been read 27 million times — had been taken down by Google. To make matters worse, his Gmail email had also been disabled.
“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,” he said.
Mehta says Google gave him no reason for suspending his account, but he seemed to hint that his blog was taken down because of some controversial posts he’d written. “Freedom is not free unless corporations who exert a large influence in our lives believe in our well-being,” he said. Some of his blogposts, which which were widely read and cited by outlets like NYT and Bloomberg, appeared to support Trump’s decisions using statistics. When Donald Trump had introduced his Muslim immigration ban, he’d used probability theory to prove how people from those nations were “a thousand times more likely to commit terrorist attacks against the US.”
— Salil Mehta (@salilstatistics) February 1, 2017
He also seemingly said that large numbers of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary, which is a controversial position to hold among Democrats.
— Salil Mehta (@salilstatistics) February 11, 2017
He’d also appeared close to Trump’s associates, congratulating Anthony Scaramucchi when he became President Trump’s communications director.
Google, on the other hand, has close ties to Hillary Clinton — former CEO Eric Schmidt was responsible for creating her digital campaign, and as many as 57 Google employees were officially affiliated with her Presidential run.
But Mehta seemed to imply his posts shouldn’t be grounds for his account being blocked, and blog being taken down. “I am a statistics professor and understand that there needs to be reasonable standards to control a large social network and make sure everyone is able to enjoy it freely. Invariably people disagree (we all see this), but some principles, such as simply showing probability and statistics with the sole hope of educating others, should be acceptable,” he said.
Mehta tried contacting Google support, but the company refused to let him know why his account had been blocked.
— Salil Mehta (@salilstatistics) August 21, 2017
Mehta then tweeted to Google’s top leaders, including CEO Sundar Pichai and Eric Schmidt, hoping to get their attention. Several prominent personalities tweeted about his situation, including editors at prominent publications, and Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of the bestselling The Black Swan.
This is the second time this month Google has fallen foul of academics. Earlier, it had been criticised by prominent scientists for firing James Damore, who’d written an internal memo in which he’d cited research studies to show why there were fewer women in tech and engineering roles than men. Several professors had said Damore’s positions, which might not have been politically correct, were scientifically sound.
But Mehta’s situation only underscores how risky putting all your eggs in the Google basket can be — he’s lost a popular blog, his email account, and all his contact information because Google chose to block his account for unspecified reasons. And worse, when contacted, Google has given him no further information, but only directed him to read Google’s Terms of Service.
When a service is free, it’s probably free for a reason.