Google Is Finally Going After Those Blackmail-y Mugshot Websites

Senior Contributor
10.07.13 7 Comments

In 2011, more than twelve million Americans were arrested, on crimes ranging from murder to sleeping in a dumpster. It’s pretty hard to figure out just how many of those go on to be convicted, but it’s worth noting that even a country as prison-happy as the US only incarcerates 1 in 140 of its citizens. But every one of those people has a mugshot, and mugshot websites do their best to make it as public as possible.

Why? To milk $400 out of you for an “unpublishing fee.” Unfortunately for these sites, Google is onto them.

It’s not just about minor embarrassment, either. Even people with minor arrests can lose their job or be denied an apartment because some dimwit finds the mugshot shorn of context, and an arrest means a conviction, right? Google was a bit shy about it at first, but now they’re pretty gung-ho about booting these sites off search results… and they’re not alone, either:

“Our team has been working for the past few months on an improvement to our algorithms to address this overall issue in a consistent way,” he said. “We hope to have it out in the coming weeks.” After a few days reviewing the issue, officials at MasterCard told the Times that they found the activity “repugnant” and had urged the merchant bank that handles those accounts to end those relationships. PayPal had a similar response, as did American Express and Discover.

In the long run, this is a good thing. First of all, yes, this is legal: Technically, mugshots are part of the public record and are accessible to any member of the public that wants them. That said, the blackmail component of this is pretty obvious to anyone with a working brain. It doesn’t cost $400 to remove a photo from a website that you yourself posted.

Secondly, while the Internet is a useful tool for calling people out for being thieves, being rude, or being a bigoted clod, there are some things that need to be let go of. No employer should care that you got busted for trying to spray-paint a Limp Bizkit logo on a dumpster in high school, because it’s not relevant.

The Internet is used for blackmail too often, so it’s nice to see Google and payment processors acting in the public interest. Now can you guys maybe do something about those P2P sharing lawsuits?

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