On Thursday, Google released yet another algorithm update, no – not the Penguin update, but an algorithm to combat mugshot web sites from showing up highly in their search results.
In February, Jonathan Hochman wrote a story here named Why Google Should Crack Down Harder On The Mugshot Extortion Racket. That story, according to Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, “was a major spark” for the reason Google began working on this algorithm. Matt also cited Jonathan’s post from yesterday, as opposed to the major New York Times story on the update.
In short, Google has taken efforts to push down these mugshot web sites from ranking so highly. The change went into effect, according to the New York Times, this Thursday.
Initially, a Google spokesman named Jason Freidenfelds responded to the New York Times, when questioned about these Mug Shot web sites, with a blanket statement that said “with very narrow exceptions, we take down as little as possible from search.” The NY Times said they then received a response from Jason Freidenfelds of Google two days later, saying “our team has been working for the past few months on an improvement to our algorithms to address this overall issue in a consistent way. We hope to have it out in the coming weeks.” Jason was initially unaware of the algorithm update the Google engineers were working on. Google told the NY Times they introduced “that algorithm change sometime on Thursday.”
These mugshot web sites pick up arrest details and photographs from government web sites. They then use that data to create landing pages that rank well in the search engines, like Google. When the person searches for their own name and sees this result come up, they are likely to pay to remove it. The web sites charge anywhere between $30 to $400 to remove the page and there are multiple sites they need to pay to remove this content. Often, the arrests don’t lead to a trial or a guilty charge but the web pages don’t go as far to show those details.
Searching this morning for the individual named in the NY Times story [Maxwell Birnbaum], the first result in Google is indeed from mugshots.com.
See also our separate story on this, Google’s New Fight Against Mugshots Sites Fails For Victim Profiled In New York Times.
I am not sure if he is the exception to the rule but it does make me wonder if the algorithm is indeed working or not. The NY Times story does mention MugShot.com as being one of the web sites impacted by this algorithm. They specifically name three sites including Mugshots, BustedMugshots and JustMugshots.
Jonathan Hochman confirmed in the comments below that this one case with Maxwell showing in the search results is an odd case. Jonathan said, “Using my own test data that hasn’t been and will never be revealed to the public, I can confirm that Google’s solution is effective.”
This change should help many innocent people sleep better at night, knowing their work, colleagues, family and children are less likely to see past arrest charges that they may or may not have been found guilty for.
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