Google Cracks Down on Mugshot Sites

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Back on February 6, 2013 Jonah Stein and I wrote about the Mugshot Extortion Racket, and how Google needed to crack down on the problem.  Several days ago Google implemented an update that has caused mugshot sites to lose the vast majority of their search traffic, and most importantly, the mugshot sites no longer rank in Google when searching for the names of the individuals pictured.

The Mugshot Racket is a paid unpublishing scam.  Mugshot sites scour the ‘net and copy mugshot photos from law enforcement sites and databases to create search engine optimizated pages that rank well on Google for the subjects’ names.   In apparent violation of the subjects’ personality rights,  the mugshot sites offer to remove photos if a fee is paid, often amounting to hundreds of dollars.   People have reported that after paying for a photo to be removed from one site, it would often pop up on multiple other mugshot sites.

Victims of the scam have been writing to me since February, explaining how these mugshots made it hard to get a job, rent an apartment, or even get a date. In our society we have courts to determine the fair punishment for a crime. Many people arrested are found innocent, have charges dismissed, or the record may be expunged upon completion of a treatment program.  Sometimes it is in society’s interest for people to have a second chance after they’ve committed a minor crime, because we don’t want to create an underclass of unemployable people.

I’m very glad that Google did the right thing. A number of states have been trying to pass laws, and there’s at least one class action lawsuit pending.  Instead of waiting for a patchwork of laws and court rulings that might not have been very effective, in one algorithmic swoop, Google appears to have cleaned up the problem.

The New York Times has published this: Mugged by a Mug Shot Online.

  • Sue

    When did this go into effect, cuz I just find my mugshot a couple days ago?

  • http://www.hochmanconsultants.com/ jehochman

    The New York Times says that the update happened Thursday. It can take a few days for any change at Google to take full effect. If your mugshots are still visible on Google, they will probably go away soon. All the ones I tested have disappeared.

  • Daniel

    There’s a similar scam for bankruptcies at sites like http://bankruptreport.com where they try to get people to pay them off via an “independent” delisting company which is obviously run by the same people. They are in Florida like all the best scammers.

    • Jonathan Hochman

      You’re right that paid unpublishing in all forms is wrong. Freedom of the press allows people to publish, no doubt. The problem is when they offer to unpublish for a fee. I’d like to see a federal law that says paid unpublishing is illegal, and that any payment processor who clears fees for such an operation is guilty of money laundering. That would stop all these scams. Take away the money, and the motive disappears.

      • Ashutosh R

        One of my client site is also suffering from such a problem… These sites should provide option to delete listing from their site. There are many network sites around the web that are penalized by Google as of now for duplicating one site on multiple sites of their. And they are making fortune out of that punishment. :)

    • treyfsu7

      you’re right about Florida too as far as scammers. It is out of control

    • Rampant_Hypocrisy

      Yea, and I am sure you have scammed people by filing a bankruptcy, Hyppo

  • http://www.greggdeselms.com Gregg DesElms

    To be clear, it is the mugshot pages’ listings in Google search results that have disappeared, not the mugshot pages, themselves. The mugshot pages remain; and if one happened to set bookmarks to them, then they are still there, online.

    However, beyond that, if one types into the Google search box a person’s name, surrounded by quotation markes, plus a precise phrase from a given mugshot page, also surrounded by quotation marks, said mugshot page will still show-up in Google search results.

    All that appears to have happened, then, is that search results for just persons’ names no longer include mugshot web pages. However, searches for persons’ names which include specific words or phrases from their mugshot pages will still yield results.

    __________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • Outtanames999

    This is a nice improvement but there are still many cases where Google returns or rewards useless information. For example, here are two that come to mind: search for any phone number in the US and you will get search results that look promising but turn out to be useless in most cases – just links to pages full of consecutive phone numbers. Or search for any operating system file on your computer that you would like to know how it works or its purpose – again search results that lead to useless or worse, misleading answers. These appear to be areas of opportunity for improvement in Google’s algorithms. I wonder if IBM’s Watson can do a better job on such searches ;)

    • Jonathan Hochman

      Excellent observations. Please post about your most hated search spams and scams, and I will bring them to Google’s attention by way of an article.

  • Vin

    Now if only bing would follow suit….

    • Ashutosh R

      They might take couple of months to follow Google. But for sure now they will also act over the issue in hand.

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  • Maya Thomas

    I love Google. Every time I read a story like this it makes me happy. So many businesses care only about what directly affects them. Thank you for this post.

  • Bent Christensen

    Great job. These sites are a disgrace!

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  • Ryan

    I am still seeing mine come up unfortunately in “Image Search”. A lot of the have gone away but some are still coming up. I am REALLY hoping it will just be a matter of time. JailHub and Mugshots .com both seem to be ranking highly for my photos despite having hundreds of photos with my name tagged trying to push the bad ones down.

  • Steve

    Where’s the crackdown? The sites are still there making a profit, a couple more.

  • Steve

    Google never “cracked down” on these sites, they probably own them.