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Google Cracks Down On Mugshot Blackmail Sites 251

Posted by timothy
from the it'll-cost-ya dept.
Google is apparently displeased with sites designed to extract money from arrestees in exchange for removing their mugshot pictures online, and is tweaking its algorithms to at least reduce their revenue stream. From the article at The New York Times: "It was only a matter of time before the Internet started to monetize humiliation. ... The sites are perfectly legal, and they get financial oxygen the same way as other online businesses — through credit card companies and PayPal. Some states, though, are looking for ways to curb them. The governor of Oregon signed a bill this summer that gives such sites 30 days to take down the image, free of charge, of anyone who can prove that he or she was exonerated or whose record has been expunged. Georgia passed a similar law in May. Utah prohibits county sheriffs from giving out booking photographs to a site that will charge to delete them. ... But as legislators draft laws, they are finding plenty of resistance, much of it from journalists who assert that public records should be just that: public."
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Google Cracks Down On Mugshot Blackmail Sites

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  • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @04:21PM (#45052859)

    The simple solution is to press extortion charges against websites that offer to take down pictures of the subjects for money.

    • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @04:31PM (#45052913)

      I'm pretty sure the pictures are considered public domain, in the same way that certain other legal information is. That's assuming that the person really was convicted of the crime and the picture was officially released or otherwise searchable through traditional means.

      Otherwise, we'd have constant reports of celebrities filling lawsuits every time one of their mugshots is posted.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2013 @04:43PM (#45052977)

        It's obviously public domain, but by when require a ransom to take it down, it becomes extortion.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          Easy solution, don't pretend to be someone you are not and don't be a bloody hypocrite. How often are those whom are the most embarrassed and humiliated by this, the very same people who attack others for it. Who scream for laws banning others from doing it while they do it themselves.

          The best solution is suck it up and bite the bullet, when enough people get busted and the questionable behaviour gets exposed as being the norm people become less embarrassed by. For the lying hypocritical jackass politica

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2013 @03:46AM (#45056525)

            Uhm, no?

            ~five years ago I was arrested by US customs and handed over to the FBI when arriving in the USA (on my own ship). Accused of smuggling drugs and being part of a criminal organisation. As the charges were bullocks I was eventually freed and actually apologised to ("wrong ship, we acted on an anonymous informer" etc etc etc... turns out this happens to sailors a LOT when entering the US..). My photo can still be found on those websites though and as the business I'm in is based on trust (I'm a consultant doing IT network safety for big companies / governments) I loose work on this. Basically I'm being punished even though I did not nothing wrong.

          • by oobayly (1056050) on Monday October 07, 2013 @03:48AM (#45056539)

            The best solution is suck it up and bite the bullet, when enough people get busted and the questionable behaviour gets exposed as being the norm people become less embarrassed by. For the lying hypocritical jackass political types, who try to make our lives a misery expose the more and more and more.

            What about the people who were arrested as they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and subsequently released without charge. Why should their photos be up there, and why should they be expected to pay to have them removed.

            The Dutch have the right idea - you're not allowed to publish a person's name or likeness (photo, artist's rendition) unless they have been convicted. It has occasionally resulted in the amusing situation of CCTV stills being published with a box over the eyes, but it certainly stops people's lives being fucked up by the media who will plaster faces on the front page, and then ignore it when they are never charged.

      • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @05:19PM (#45053171) Homepage Journal

        In other countries such pictures get not published. They are property of the government (hence copyrighted) and according to privacy laws and laws about your personal right to have control over the fotos taken from you, publishinig them is a copyright infringement, a infringement on privacy and demanding money to remove them from "the internet" is blackmailing and fraud.
        If some one would do that with my mugshot in my country he had bad luck. Surprising that in gods own country people obviously have no rights at all and need a new law every year to combat such exploits.

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        That does not make it OK to use the pictures for extortion.

        • by asmkm22 (1902712)

          That's not extortion though. It's not like they are threatening to spam your facebook friends with it if you don't pay up.

        • by Penguinisto (415985) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:01PM (#45055421) Journal

          ...what sibling said.

          If you were arrested at some point in the past and your face/mugshot winds up at the site, with a full (as possible) record of what happened to you? It's simply the truth. Now the ideal says that you paid your dues, did your time, etc. On the other hand, reality says you're not going to be able to bury such information anymore.

          In spite of all that, I'm perfectly okay with such sites on these conditions:

          1) a sunset period occurs where faces/records get automatically deleted after a period of years (5, 7, 10, whatever - maybe set one period for misdemeanors, a second for felonies, a lifetime for convictions involving pedophilia or death, etc).

          2) a clear listing of what happened after the arrest must accompany the picture (dismissal, not guilty, fine, conviction, plea bargain, whatever). Some of these sites only list what the arrest was for.

          IMHO? If I were ever arrested, and if it were my image on such sites? Fuck it - it would cost too much to chase down every two-bit operator with a web host and a bit of Perl scraping-script (seriously, there's like dozens of such sites out there. The reason why I know all this? I'll explain at the end...) Besides, it's not like a background check would miss such a thing in the first place unless the record was well and truly expunged.

          (So, how do I know these things? I happened to find an ex-boss of mine on it after a friend of mine heard a rumor, and discovered the dude is currently in prison for doing things to his daughter that were way the hell wrong. Took four different sites before I found enough of the story to discover what happened. Pity - he seemed a really cool guy, and technically he's sharp as hell.)

          • by Kalriath (849904)

            Hang on, so even if found not guilty you're OK with the sites posting up details and slandering individuals? Sounds like you're advocating "guilty until proven innocent - and guilty even then". Boy, do the federal prosecutors have a job waiting for you!

            • by mi (197448)

              you're OK with the sites posting up details and slandering individuals?

              Is it slander, if it is perfectly true? Unpleasant, yes, but "slander"?

          • by oobayly (1056050) on Monday October 07, 2013 @03:51AM (#45056545)

            Wait, I have to pay my dues for being arrested? I thought I have to pay my dues if I'm convicted.

      • by nbauman (624611)

        I'm pretty sure the pictures are considered public domain, in the same way that certain other legal information is.

        Yes, you can post information that is in public domain.

        However, according to TFA, some prosecutors are treating it as a crime of extortion or blackmail to keep the photos on your web site unless the person pays you money.

        My gut reaction is that I would like it to be a crime, but it may be difficult to establish in law.

        • My gut reaction is that I would like it to be a crime, but it may be difficult to establish in law.

          Not difficult at all - threatening to do something completely legal unless someone pays you is still blackmail!.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      The simple solution is to press extortion charges against websites that offer to take down pictures of the subjects for money.

      Indeed... I would suggest a law that it will be a criminal offense for the CEO or Management of any company, to execute that particular form of extortion.

      Then the CEO can have their mugshot posted all over the place, and see how it feels.

    • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @05:10PM (#45053115)

      It doesn't work.

      Google should ALSO be pulling the plug on that "rip off report" site that let's anyone leave negative comments of any kind about anyone under any circumstances (including name, phone number, domains, address, etc) and never *ever* removes it . . . but will work with the person being attacked . . . if they pay for the "business/corporate relation services".

      I banned a user from my website almost a decade ago for defrauding other users, using false information for their account, and sending death threats to other users (and myself) and shortly after, that person posted some pretty awful stuff on the site which I have no way to ever remove, unless I want to submit to the extortion of the guy behind that site. Google includes their results right at the top of most people's results (though I believe Yahoo! has since dinged the domain for SEO spamming).

      It's no different than these mugshots, except that at least with mugshots, you have been arrested. With these "reputation" and "consumer protection" sites that are actual extortionists (especially this one), you don't have to have been arrested. Or even have done business with the person making the attack. Or even *have* a business (I don't and didn't). You can literally just take anyone you're pissed off at and sale vile things about them on the site, include personal information and contact information and so on, and it'll be up there until the end of time, marring any searches for them in the future.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2013 @05:11PM (#45053121)

      I applaud Google for this move but the solution is for LEO not to release pictures or other personally identifiable information about people who have not been convicted in the first place because doing so can ruin an innocent person's life and innocent people get charged with crimes all the time. On a related note, when Strauss-Kahn got the "perp walk" treatment, many in France were shocked because the practice is banned [telegraph.co.uk] there to protect the innocent,

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I applaud Google for this move but the solution is for LEO not to release pictures or other personally identifiable information about people who have not been convicted in the first place because doing so can ruin an innocent person's life and innocent people get charged with crimes all the time. On a related note, when Strauss-Kahn got the "perp walk" treatment, many in France were shocked because the practice is banned [telegraph.co.uk] there to protect the innocent,

        This indeed is the correct solution. If governments were not tossing these pictures about willy-nilly, these sites would not have any content of anybody who was later found not guilty. The sources are frequently sheriff's department websites that amount to a big giant campaign sight at taxpayer expense saying "Hey! Look how many people we are arresting for YOU!"

        It is pretty haphazard too. I have been trying to get an FBI wanted poster from 1972, of a guy who was caught and confessed (for real) in 1986

    • by Nimey (114278)

      Because everyone's rich enough to afford legal representation after paying for rent, food, clothing, and medicine?

    • by Gerzel (240421)

      I'd think the simple thing to do is make the picture copyright of the person of whom it is taken in the case of exoneration/dropped charges.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 06, 2013 @04:37PM (#45052951)

    Stop automatically thinking people are criminals because they were arrested. Wake up and realize that you are living in a police state where anyone can be arrested at any time because a cop wanted to. A friend of mine was pulled over for running a stop sign and the cop asked to search his car. Of course he said "no" so the cop arrested him and took him to jail for running the stop sign, which allowed him to search the car "incident to arrest." This crap happens all the time in Texas.

  • A simple copyright stamp would solve the problem.
    The pictures are still public and any one can see them.
    However permission would be required for use. Use could be stipulated as part of that.
    Requires some administration, but the other solutions do as well.
  • by ThreeGigs (239452) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @05:02PM (#45053065)

    Contract with 3rd party photographers to take the pictures, with a suitable license agreement (perpetual use by police/courts/etc.). Let the photographer sue for unlicensed commercial use by other sites.

    The problem will be solved rather quickly.

    • And why would our local police want a 3rd party photographer (whom they would presumably have to pay) to take the pictures? It's not like these things are carefully set up with hair lighting and a nice background. It's a mounted camera on a wall. They tell the perp to stand there and somebody pushes a button.

      On newer digital systems, you don't even have to hold the sign.

      • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

        This is a fantastic idea -- every photographer I've ever met can certainly afford the court costs and legal fees to take on sites such as these.
        Hell they have entire legal teams! I can't believe no one has ever thought of this before.

        Quick -- you better go patent your idea!

      • Sell the camera on the wall to a third party. Doesn't require a third party human to be present for the photo to be their property.
  • US laws are meaningless if the web site is hosted and managed by somebody outside of the USA.

  • Ya, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @05:08PM (#45053103)

    ... if they ban mugshots, then only criminals will have them. :-)

  • I am guessing this has little to do with morality and more to do with gaming the search engine. If they paid for ads it would be different. This is as absurd as people who want an erase switch for the internet. I want the feature from "Asylum of the Daleks" that erases my name from the collective human consciousness. Motey who? Some seek fame or infamy and others shun it. Slashdot should charge us to delete stupid comments from their servers. The only problem is that I keep making the same mistake. Doh!
  • An arrest isn't an indication of guilt. Can you imagine being falsely accused of something like rape or murder, never being even charged, but having a "Rape" mugshot following you around?

  • ...or his kid's. Nothing changes in this country unless someone rich, famous, or powerful is affected. Google was saying just a few months ago they didn't care at all about this stuff.

  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @08:21PM (#45054227)
    The cop she lived next to didn't know she was autistic, and when someone kicked his screen door he assumed it must be her and had her booked on assault and vandalism charges. A judge ruled within hours to let her go and expunge her record, but those sites have her photo all over the place.
    • Something is seriously wrong with a society that criminalizes people with disabilities because it doesn't take the time and compassion to understand them.

      This sort of unforgivable xenophobia was characteristic of the Nazis. America is just doing the same thing under a different guise (though the difference is shockingly small).

  • Wasn't one of the protections for google being a search engine the fact that it was indiscriminate?
    All it did was use robots to report information that was out there.

    With all the massaging of search results and removing of links and other things it's becoming increasingly obvious that google can and will modify those results on a direct basis rather than simply giving "search results"

    I think that whatever protections they've enjoyed under the various IP laws and I'm sure other kinds of laws where their defe

  • This blurb is different from the article. I don't see in the article what Google itself is doing to correct the problem. To me, it seems simple on their part, just band justmugshots.com and whatever other domains are being used. That's what I was hoping to see, but nope, the Do Know Evil company is still not only including mug shot sites in their image search results, but they're unjustifiably highly ranked.

    Here's my problem...

    My name shows up in image search results. Great here's what "first_name last_n

    • by afgam28 (48611)

      It's in the article, but you have to click through to page 4.

      Google’s team worked faster than Mr. Friedenfelds expected, introducing that algorithm change sometime on Thursday. The effects were immediate: on Friday, two mug shots of Janese Trimaldi, which had appeared prominently in an image search, were no longer on the first page. For owners of these sites, this is very bad news.

  • Doesn't anyone find it troublesome that a private company (Google) is the one deciding whether this should be permissible? A private company, not democratically elected representatives, is deciding if this speech is protected or not? And that private company has the power to make or break the companies doing this?

    Don't get me wrong - I don't think that posting booking photos should be legal, and I think that our representatives need to work on the issue of digital memories, where a stupid mistake made a lon

  • I don't log onto a site unless I have to, then log off when I'm done, keeps the tracking down a tad.

    I have two Youtube accounts Googles aware of. Yesterday I logged in to do some work on the videos
    and joined Google+. I don't want to be part of Google+, I've no interest in the "social networks".
    I've changed the settings to send no Email my way and keep from displaying my actions, but
    don't wish an account I want no part of. Took me 4 years to finally get out of Facebook,
    an account I started but never did any

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