On October 3rd 2013 Google finally changed their algorithm to punish online mugshot websites that have been punishing and extorting money from the millions of Americans who have had unfortunate brushes with the law.
For years, companies such as mugshot.com, busted.com, justbusted.com and others have been scraping mugshots from county jail websites and publishing those photos online for all to see. The truth is that this is legal, but the question has always been, is it moral? Is it right for someone who was arrested and then had all charges dropped to have their reputation ruined forever because multiple websites were profiting from their misfortune?
What these companies were doing was immoral for another reason: Many of the sites were charging upwards of $400 to have a person’s mugshot removed from their database, agreeing to erase it forever from being published online. In effect, it was extortion.
Because the practice of publishing the mugshot was legal, due to first amendment rights that have been upheld by the Supreme Court, it fell on the shoulders of Google, Bing and others to do the right thing in response to the profiteering.
By tweaking their algorithms to recognize that mugshots were not original content and were in fact ‘stolen’ or ‘copied’ from official websites without their permission, Google and Bing dealt a death blow to these companies that were offering mugshot publication and removal for a fee. If your mugshot was on the first page of Google for a minor offense, it has now disappeared. As of this writing Yahoo has still not come along for the ride, but we believe in time they will, especially with ongoing public pressure.
MasterCard, Visa, Discover, American Express and PayPal have followed suit by deciding to no longer process the payments from these websites. In other words, as of last week these scourges of society, the blackmailers of the 21st Century, have been deterred. You can still type in their websites to view recent mugshots, but if you were one of the poor souls whose booking photo was on the first page when someone googled you, you can now breathe more easy. The image of your terrible night in jail has gone away from the public’s glare.
I manage the content for jailexchange.com, a directory of inmate searches and information about each of the 9,000 jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers in the United States. Every month over 3 million people, the friends and family members of people incarcerated, come to our pages to find out where their inmates are, how to contact them and how to better understand the confusing maze of the criminal justice system.
Years ago, we decided that publishing mugshots on our website was wrong. We do provide links to all jails and prisons that maintain inmate populations, but this is so people can find their friends and family members. The links are not provided to embarrass or extort money from anyone.
Jailexchange.com applauds Google, Bing and all the credit card companies for finally bringing this sordid practice to a halt. The internet is best when used to help people, not to destroy their lives.