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Google, payment providers take action against firms profiting from mug shots

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Mug shot
Mug shot

As if getting arrested isn't problematic enough, it turns out that the advent of the internet age has made it considerably worse. A cottage industry of companies scraping and reposting local police departments' websites for mug shots has popped up over the past several years, keeping the specter of a past run-in with the law no further than a Google search away unless a fee — which can run in the hundreds of dollars — is paid to have the shot taken down. For serious crimes, permanently spreading a mug shot far and wide isn't necessarily a bad thing; for minor offenses, it can make the difference between landing and losing a job.

"We looked at the activity and found it repugnant."

Google's own policies penalize sites for copying content wholesale from other sources, which would presumably push mug shot scrapers into irrelevance, but that hasn't been happening. When brought to Google's attention by a New York Times investigation, the company eventually acknowledged that it was working on a change to its search algorithm to "address the overall issue." By the time the Times published its story, those algorithm changes appeared to have already gone into effect, burying mug shots for at least some arrestees beyond the critical first page of search results. MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and PayPal have all followed suit, making it much more difficult for such services to get paid. MasterCard went so far as to call the concept "repugnant."

Not getting arrested, of course, remains the most appealing option.