A child using a mobile phone to play a prank has caused digital chaos for his family with very serious legal and financial implications.
Jennifer Watkins was accused of posting child pornography on her YouTube account after a joke played by one of her twin seven-year-old boys, Benjamin and Flynn, went very wrong.
Ms Watkins diplomatically did not say which of the twins was responsible, but one of them posted a video of himself flashing his bum for a dare to their YouTube account, which is registered to their mum.
The NSW woman was immediately locked out of apps, email, document and cloud storage of precious family photos and videos by YouTube’s owner, Google, and threatened with having the police involved over ‘child exploitation’.
‘I need a working-with-children’s check for work, so I thought if anything comes up on that, then I don’t have a job. So I was very concerned,’ Ms Watkins, who is a nurse, told The Project on Thursday.
Jennifer Watkins was accused of posting child pornography on her YouTube account after a joke played by one of her twin seven-year-old boys, Benjamin and Flynn (pictured), went very wrong
‘I had no idea that they’d filmed anything.
‘It was only when I got a message from YouTube saying that they’d closed my account and I thought, “What have they done?”
‘Then it was a few hours later that I heard from Google that they’d suspended my email account and was horrified. I had no idea what was going on, or why.’
Her husband Bruce works in IT, so Project presenter Kellyn Morris asked him how this happened despite his computing background.
‘My boys have a fair amount of free rein and they’ve been brought up with technology,’ he said.
But Mr Watkins pointed out that his accounts were not affected, just his children’s and his wife’s.
‘I was very glad that it wasn’t my Google account. That would have been quite devastating. My whole life’s in there,’ he said.
‘The shocking part is just the lack of ability to do anything about it. Google doesn’t want to talk to you. Everything is set up to be as automated as possible.
‘It’s only the fact that we had a premium account that we could even get someone to talk to – not that they could actually do anything to help us.’
If Ms Watkins had been reported to the police, her nursing career could have been destroyed.
Jennifer (pictured right) and Bruce (left) Watkins were shocked at the trouble a prank by one of their children caused
‘They made it quite clear too in the email that they would report me to relevant authorities if they deemed that appropriate,’ she said.
Google’s refusal to help meant Ms Watkins was locked out of her email, work schedule and bank statements, and was even barred from ordering food on apps using Google Pay.
The company reported the video posted by Ms Watkins’ son to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the US – which is standard procedure when naked videos of children are spotted by Google’s artificial intelligence surveillance.
It was then up to the NCMEC to decide on whether or not Ms Watkins would be reported to the police.
When the family could not get the internet giant to believe their innocent explanation, the Watkins’ contacted US media.
Ms Watkins had been locked out digitally for more than a month and was despairing on the implications this would have on her career and the family’s finances.
But contacting a US newspaper helped turn things around and Google soon restored her accounts.
The company finally acknowledged that Ms Watkins had not uploaded child exploitation material.
Ms Watkins was locked out of apps, email, document and cloud storage of precious family photos and videos by YouTube’s owner, Google, and threatened with having the police involved over ‘child exploitation’ (stock image)
‘We do not want our platforms to be used to endanger or exploit children, and there’s a widespread demand that internet platforms take the firmest action to detect and prevent CSAM (child sexual abuse material),’ Google said.
‘In this case, we understand that the violative content was not uploaded maliciously.’
The family went public with their case in order to provide a cautionary tale for other parents who could very easily get trapped in a similar situation.
‘Our message would have to be – set your kids’ devices up with a disposable account,’ Mr Watkins said.
‘That way, if they do something wrong, they don’t take you out as a casualty.’
Ms Watkins had a simpler and more immediate solution to the problem – she has banned the twins from using the internet.