Your online reputation lasts forever. Comments you made 7 years ago can still be found, posted photos can be saved and shared, and negative content about you can surface. Even public criminal records like arrest information and mugshots can be accessed, exploited, and shared online. Mugshot removal websites have built a business around displaying arrest records and demanding payment to delete the photos. Thanks to new laws, victims now have many options to remove these damaging images.
Mugshot websites scrape arrest photos from county police websites, and then post them online. These sites may rank very well, and for some, fill the first page of search engine results for a person’s name. This is terrible from a reputation management standpoint, making it difficult for those featured in the photos to find a job, date, or even apply for credit.
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Often, the arrested individuals ask that the websites remove their photos. And of course they can, as long as they pay a hefty fee. This practice has sparked several lawsuits against these websites, usually claiming extortion. But thanks to new laws, policies from Google, and action by credit card companies, the booming industry making that used to make money featuring mugshots online has all but gone bust.
New Mugshot Removal Laws
Lawmakers are working to shut down these websites which have hidden behind the first amendment by allowing citizens to file a lawsuit against them. Georgia state representative Roger Bruce introduced a new law that now makes it a crime for websites to charge Georgia citizens to have their mugshot removed. Websites will now have 30 days to remove a photo, and noncompliance is a violation of the law.
Google Targets Sites Displaying Mugshots Online
While mugshot extortion laws are slowly starting to be introduced in different states, including Oregon, Google and major credit card companies have moved swiftly to shut down the practice. Google launched a new algorithm in October 2013 specifically targeting mugshot sites, pushing down these results or even removing webpages hosting them. While mugshots can still be found online, the damaging photos may no longer rank in the top results for a person’s name.
Payment Processors Abandon Mugshot Websites
As part of an investigation of the industry, New York Times reporter David Segal alerted payment processors to the fact that these websites were using their services to earn money. Nearly every company Segal spoke to dropped mugshot websites as customers, including MasterCard, PayPal, American Express, and Discover. “When these companies were brought to our attention and we made a careful review, we decided to discontinue support for payments related to mugshot removal services,” say PayPal spokesman John Pluhowski.
How Long do Mugshots Stay Online?
With lower visibility in Google search engine results and limited methods of payment, mugshot websites appear to be losing steam. But while online mugshots are no longer enjoying the heyday they once had, they are able to profit in other ways, including Bing, Yahoo and Google ads for bail bonds and related services. As long as these sites are still operating, your arrest photo could to show up online.
Fortunately, arrest photos no longer rank high enough to dominate your search results, but they do still pose a problem. Websites like mugshotsgainesville.com, mugshotsonline.com, and bustedmugshots.com state that booked inmates can’t pay to have their pictures removed, but they can wait. Many of these sites now claim mugshots will only stay online for a maximum of 90 days.
That’s good news for people with prior arrests, but nothing is ever really gone online. Potential employers, creditors, and other interested parties may still dig up your arrest record by using caching or searching the Internet Archive if they’re committed to finding them.
How to Remove Mugshots from Google
If you’re struggling with how to remove a mugshot online, don’t lose hope. You have options, and the law may be on your side. Try the following tips to remove your arrest photo from websites:
- Check the website’s policy. Some websites have what they call a “courtesy removal service.” If you can prove that you were exonerated or never charged, your photo may be removed. Even if the arrest stuck, if you can demonstrate that you’ve turned your life around, the websites may be convinced to take down your photo. Communication with the websites is a good first step, but keep in mind that they may not be eager to help.
- Find out if you’re protected by law. Your state may have a law that requires mugshot websites to remove photos upon request. Typically, they must be taken down within 30 days of being contacted with the request, or they will be in violation of the law. Georgia and Oregon are two states that currently have these laws, and we expect to see more states join their ranks shortly.
- Push for a larger crackdown on mugshot websites. If your state doesn’t have a mugshot removal law, ask for one. Contact your state lawmakers and encourage them to create a law that will make it easier for you to manage your online reputation.
- Consult an attorney. Class action and individual lawsuits are pending against mugshot websites. You may be able to join, or create your own case to remove the photo and possibly win damages.
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Ultimately, the outlook is positive for individuals struggling with reputation issues from a prior arrest. Though there are some websites that are still publishing photos and charging for removal, their popularity has clearly taken a nosedive. Individuals with prior arrests now have more options than simply paying for removal. If you’re featured on a mugshot website, seek out every option possible to get your photo removed. Take action, and defend your online reputation.