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.