Google’s New Fight Against Mugshots Sites Fails For Victim Profiled In New York Times

Google has a new system in place designed to prevent “mugshots” sites from ranking well. Such sites make money convincing people to “remove” their mugshots after posting them online. Only one problem. The person featured in a New York Times story yesterday as a victim of this unsavory practice still has his mugshot appearing, despite Google’s supposed change.

The practice of mugshot shots was profiled in the New York Times yesterday (and in our sister-site Search Engine Land earlier this year). The New York Times story leads with the story of Maxwell Birnbaum, who was upset that his mugshot was still appearing on several mugshots sites that, in turn, appeared in the top results on Google — making him less attractive to potential employers. The sites offer to remove those mugshots, for a fee.

From the story:

In March last year, a college freshman named Maxwell Birnbaum was riding in a van filled with friends from Austin, Tex., to a spring-break rental house in Gulf Shores, Ala. As they neared their destination, the police pulled the van over, citing a faulty taillight. When an officer asked if he could search the vehicle, the driver — a fraternity brother of Mr. Birnbaum’s who quickly regretted his decision — said yes.

Six Ecstasy pills were found in Mr. Birnbaum’s knapsack, and he was handcuffed and placed under arrest. Mr. Birnbaum later agreed to enter a multiyear, pretrial diversion program that has involved counseling and drug tests, as well as visits to Alabama every six months to update a judge on his progress. But once he is done, Mr. Birnbaum’s record will be clean….

At least in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of anyone who searches for Mr. Birnbaum online, the taint could last a very long time. That’s because the mug shot from his arrest is posted on a handful of for-profit Web sites, with names like Mugshots, BustedMugshots and JustMugshots. These companies routinely show up high in Google searches; a week ago, the top four results for “Maxwell Birnbaum” were mug-shot sites.

The story goes on to detail the practice of these sites, ending with the news that Google says it implemented a new ranking algorithm last Thursday to fight mugshot sites.

One person featured in the story, Dr. Janese Trimaldi, does appear to have her mugshots removed as the New York Times itself noted in the story, though ironically, now the New York Times story mentioning her arrest appears in the top listings:

Janese Trimaldi - Google Search

But Birnbaum, who the entire New York Times story opens with, still has his mugshot ranking tops in Google for one site, as Julio Fernandez noted on Twitter:

Maxwell Birnbaum - Google Search

So, whatever Google has done, it’s clearly not a perfect solution.

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Related Topics: Google: SEO | Legal: Privacy | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • socialjulio

    Yay, my name on! That will help me compete with other Julio Fernandez’ out there, like the Professor from Columbia University (that .edu is killing my ranking) and guitarist Julio Fernandez from Spyro Gyra. Seriously, a move in the right direction but what about all of the local publications that have police blotter sections? They link to the mugs and Google will continue to index them. I guess the best solution is… don’t get arrested!

  • AskSock Ngô Quang Đạo

    Google play not fair.Money to them and we have new ranking algorithm! hmmmm..

  • Roger Triton

    I personally think Google is a parasite company for their various privacy-invading terms of service. Good to see the Mugshots industry got beat down a bit; how long until they find a way around the new code?

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