October 24, 2013

The NY times article titled “Why Google Should Crack Down Harder On The Mugshot Extortion Racket” by Jonathan Hochman served as a “major spark” for Google’s latest update, the Mugshot update, according to Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts. The algorithm, which was released on Thursday, is Google’s attempt to take action against rampant mugshot sites, which are structured in a way that made them rank at the first position for search results of the names of people whose mugshots have landed on these sites.

These websites work by gathering information of convicted individuals from law enforcement websites and government databases, and publishing these arrest details and photographs on their landing pages. In most cases, the arrests do not lead to guilty charges or trials, but this information is not included on the mugshot sites. This leads to a paid unpublishing scam, since when the individuals in question search for their names on Google, and see these results coming up, they are often ready to pay huge amounts to bring them down. This procedure involves paying multiple “mugshot removing” websites amounts ranging from $30-$400 to have the information removed, which is a clear violation of the personality rights of these individuals.

The update is causing these mugshot sites to lose a huge amount of their traffic, and search results for names of affected individuals no longer include the mugshot sites. This comes as a huge relief for people who have their mugshots online, since this came in the way of everything, right from getting a job to renting an apartment. What was worse was that several people reported that their mugshots became available on several other mugshot sites after they paid to get them removed from one.

Google’s mugshot update will go a long way in giving these people, many of whom were found innocent, had charges dismissed, had committed a minor crime, or had their record expunged on completing a treatment program, a second chance at a normal life. Before the update, people had to worry about being tainted online long after they were declared clean by the law. Even though several states including Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Utah have been trying to pass laws against what is rightly described as the “Mugshot Extortion Racket”, most of these laws are still hanging midway, awaiting court rulings. Google has successfully managed to bring an end to the long wait, solving the problem in a single sweep.