There is a cyber-war between Google and websites that posts mugshots online. In case you have missed the thousands of ads strewn across the internet, there are sites that post publicly available mugshots online, with the names and profiles of those in the mugshots. The site will then let those people pay to have them removed, a practice that not everyone agrees with but could be considered free-speech and fair practice. That is the question that one of the largest sites on the market hopes to make.
The largest opponents of this website operation is Google itself, the search-engine recently made an algorithm change that will push these sites to the bottom of search results; effectively cutting off the ‘shaming’ portion that the sites use to profit on the mug shots. Or in another light, “protect the public”.
One of the largest sites is Mugshots.com, and they have written a detailed response to Google’s algorithm change, urging company officials to “thoroughly examine the issue from the public’s perspective.” In a statement released today the company clearly made their case,
“While individuals arrested for minor offenses or never convicted enjoy the attention of sympathetic news media, what gets lost in the emotional mix is previously a Google search also returned results showing the criminal history of individuals arrested for extremely serious crimes as well as convictions. Except in extremely limited situations discussed in our article, that’s not the case anymore. Thanks to Google’s algorithm change, there is now an enormous public safety blind spot that puts every person in the country at potential risk who performs a Google search on someone with a criminal history—that number is in the millions. Google’s algorithm change does not discriminate; it protects and shields the sympathetic and the truly wicked alike at the expense of public safety and the ability to make meaningful informed decisions by millions of Americans.”
The company went on to say, “A person’s arrest, even for a minor offense and/or for which the person was never convicted, is always relevant information to the individual performing the search. That’s one important piece of information people naturally want to take into consideration when making an informed decision. However, Google has made the determination for all Americans that you shouldn’t have easy access to public information of an indisputable fact and undeniably relevant by intentionally concealing it.”
Although that sounds like a great warning for the public, the sites can also make money by letting these ‘serious offenders’ unpublish their mugshots and records. Here are the pricing tables from unpublisharrest.com:
1 arrest including mugshot(s) – $399.00
2 arrests including mugshots – $798.00
3 arrests including mugshots – $1197.00
4 arrests including mugshots – $1479.00
5 arrests including mugshots – $1799.00
So if the goal of the company is to protect the public, why are they letting people pay to unpublish these records? Mugshots.com states that Google is the “go-to place for information,” in their statement and the company makes the case that “If information isn’t there, it simply doesn’t exist for most Internet users. It’s not an overstatement to say that with its algorithm change Google has effectively hidden from public view the criminal history of most individuals arrested and convicted in this country.”
It should be noted that these are public records, and you do not officially need Google to obtain them, though it is more convenient. Mugshots.com even admits this by stating, “While arrest records are available at government websites, they almost never appear during a search of a person’s name even when the person has been arrested and convicted. Prior to the algorithm change, a simple search of just about anyone with a criminal history appeared prominently in search results with a link to a website that publishes mugshots. Google cannot, with a clear conscience, now deprive millions of Americans access to vital public records with a shrug and note that they’re available elsewhere.”
Google will most likely not back down from the change, as the company rarely does when making a significant alteration in their algorithm for search-results.
Tell us what you think of the ordeal, do you think Google should keep arrest records at the top of search-results, or should only government companies be listed at the top and not profitable databases?