When an individual is arrested and taken into police custody, it’s standard procedure to snap a booking photo, widely known as a “mugshot.”
One thing to keep in mind about mugshots is that just because someone has one floating around out there, doesn’t necessarily mean they are guilty of committing a crime. It’s standard police procedure—all it takes is one ornery cop to decide you deserve to be arrested and BAM, your Dazed & Confused audition headshot is officially public record. Some police departments even publish a local rogue’s gallery of recently taken mugshots in the name of “government transparency.” What does all this mean for the service industry though? Let’s dig in.
In recent years, a uniquely modern blackmail technique fueled by easily accessible mugshot databases has become a potential problem for anyone who’s ever been thrown in cuffs. Consider this troubling scenario: your straight-A student daughter is nabbed at an underage drinking party. She wasn’t intoxicated and cooperated completely with police, but they still put her under arrest and brought her down to the station house for a mugshot. Cut to a few years later when she is graduating college and beginning to test the job market. She is crushed to learn that when potential employers have been Googling her name as part of the interview process, her old mugshot pops up not just once, but several times!
After a bit of research, you are dismayed to learn that the old mugshots have been posted online by blackmailers who hope to be paid to take them down. Sadly, this is far from an isolated phenomenon. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has fielded hundreds of reports that follow the above scenario almost to the letter. The racket itself consists of scraping mugshots from police websites and collecting them on vast database sites optimized to rank highly when one of the names is searched. Then these sites shamelessly offer to remove listings for a “small administrative fee” that can range anywhere from $79 to over $1,500!
And to make the story even more sordid, none other than Google has played a big role in providing these mugshot extortionists with the platform and traffic to carry out their dirty deeds. Although it was unintentional, Google strength’s as a search engine and data organizer made it the perfect extortion vehicle, providing mugshot entrepreneurs with all the tools to optimize and monetize their racket.
So what’s an internet behemoth to do? Well, earlier this month, Google finally swooped into action, implementing an update that sent search traffic to these mugshot sites plummeting. While decreased traffic passing through these sites is no small victory, the real achievement of this update is that the mugshots no longer rank at all when the names of the individuals pictured are searched for. Google definitely emerges from this mess as the good guy. A number of states across the nation have bills in legislative purgatory aimed at reining in these mugshot extortionists. Fortunately, all that red tape may no longer be necessary now that Google has taken forceful action.
Now, I’m sure most of you are saying: that’s all very well and good but, how does this news affect me and my service business? Quite a bit, it would happen. Basically, this is good news all around for the service industry. It means that Google is cracking down on review sites who allow users to post illegitimate negative reviews by tying things like user registration, history and activity into new algorithms. Hopefully, this is the start of a new internet-wide trend and some of those solid, honest companies out there with unmerited Google reviews and Yelp! ratings will see some justice.
Indeed, this new anti-blackmail algorithm should give many folks peace of mind knowing their family, friends, colleagues and potential employers are far less likely to see past arrest charges that they may not have even been convicted of. This writer will certainly sleep easier tonight knowing his 1999 arrest for shoplifting a copy of Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP will never see the light of day.
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