News and Commentary

IT’S IN THE MATH: Statistics Professor Temporarily Banned By Google Without Explanation

A statistics professor who served for two years as Director of Analytics in the U.S. Department of the Treasury for the TARP program had his account temporarily banned by Google, and he is bewildered as to exactly why.

Salil Mehta, who has taught at Columbia University and Georgetown University, found on Friday that his account was banned, which was especially puzzling because no reason was given as to why.

Mehta wrote a statement adumbrating what had happened; it began with him asserting:

Freedom is not free unless corporations who exert a large influence in our lives believe in our well-being. I am a statistics professor and understand that there needs (sic) 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 and in the middle of the distribution. I am for a higher standard, and a higher purpose. There is great care that I have taken to make sure that people treat one other well, admit faults, and present math and probability education to a wide audience.

After noting that all of his Google accounts had been terminated Friday afternoon, including gmail accounts, blog, and his university pages, Mehta noted:

My ads-free blog itself is a probability theory site, with 27 million reads and has somewhere near 150k overall followers. 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. So it’s been a great boon for Google to be noticed so kindly by essentially a charitable site promoting math education. What great people from all corners of the world and at all levels who can enjoy Google, until it suddenly died Friday afternoon.

Mehta noted that his work is not partisan; he had both “worked with both the Obama administration and advised on polling statistics for the Trump campaign.” He added that he gave all the proceeds of his best-selling statistics book to charity. He pointed out that The New York Times had just cited his Google blog.

Mehta asked:

Can they not differentiate me from an evil person? 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.

He added, “I have many students, family, coworkers, etc who typically send me e-mails each day and all of it is vanishing with a kicked-back “user doesn’t exist” error. And that’s totally unacceptable. Through my many companies have business accounts on different social media and have no issue getting a marketing line, but one needs to know who they are dealing with and not treat them this badly. The wrongs here are not being done by me.”

Mehta explained that he had attempted to remedy the problem, but to no avail, writing, “I have followed their common ‘appeal’ form but no response for three days.” He concluded:

We are going to be looking back on this time in Google’s history and those of other social media and know that they have done some very immoral and confusing things, and it has hurt their public reputation with decent people who wanted to grow into the next future with them

On Tuesday, Mehta announced his accounts had been restored: