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Google, credit card companies combating for-profit mugshot sites

Google, credit card companies combating for-profit mugshot sites
Google's search engine has come up with an algorithm to make proit mugshot websites less prominent in search results. UPI/Mohammad Kheirkhah | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Google and credit card companies are working separately to combat websites that post mugshots, then charge people to remove them.

Currently, there are more than 80 websites that pull mugshots from police and sheriff's office websites, post them online, then charge between $30 and $400 to remove the pictures, The New York Times reported Saturday.

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Arthur D'Antonio III, 25, founder of JustMugshots.com, said he believes that his website provides a service to people and denied that what he does is illicit or unethical.

"No one should have to go to the courthouse to find out if their kid's baseball coach has been arrested, or if the person they're going on a date with tonight has been arrested," he said. "Our goal is to make that information available online, without having to jump through any hoops."

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Journalists have also defended the sites, saying mugshots are public records.

"What we have is a situation where people are doing controversial things with public records," says Mark Caramanica, a director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Va. "But should we shut down the entire database because there are presumably bad actors out there?"

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Some states have created legislation against such websites, including Utah, which prohibits county sheriffs from giving out booking photographs to a site that will charge to delete them.

However, the efforts of Google and a number of credit card companies may put the websites out of business.

Google spokesman Jason Friedenfelds said for-profit mugshot websites violate several of Google's guidelines and that the online search engine has come up with an algorithm to make websites less prominent in search results.

"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," Friedenfelds said.

Representative for MasterCard, American Express and Discover, as well as PayPal, said they are in the process of terminating contracts with mugshot websites.

"When mug-shot removal services were brought to our attention and we made a careful review," said John Pluhowski, a spokesman for PayPal, "we decided to discontinue support for mug-shot removal payments."

"We looked at the activity and found it repugnant," said Noel Hanft, general counsel with Mastercard.

D'Antonio of JustMugshots.com, which accepts payments through Mastercard, Discover, and Visa, said that his company is trying to cope with the drop in activity.

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"We're still trying to wrap our heads around this," D'Antonio said.

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