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Oct. 7, 2013, 11:28 a.m.
LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 7, 2013

Over the weekend, the Times published David Segal’s look at mugshot sites — the ones that gather publicly available mugshots from around the country, publish them with the arrestee’s name and charge attached, and then offer to take them down for the right amount of money. (They’re pretty evil.)

We’ve written about them before, because however close their activities may seem to blackmail, they also intersect with traditional journalism — which, after all, publishes mugshots all the time, albeit without the hundred-bucks-to-clear-your-name-in-Google twist. Some legal approaches to pushing back against mugshot sites also threaten journalism.

Anyway, aside from producing a good story, Segal’s poking around seems to have resulted in some action, from Google (whose search algorithms have previously given a certain prominence to mugshot sites) to the payment processors through whom the money flows:

[Google introduced an] algorithm change sometime on Thursday. The effects were immediate: on Friday, two mug shots of Janese Trimaldi, which had appeared prominently in an image search, were no longer on the first page. For owners of these sites, this is very bad news…

Asked two weeks ago about its policies on mug-shot sites, officials at MasterCard spent a few days examining the issue, and came back with an answer. “We looked at the activity and found it repugnant,” said Noah Hanft, general counsel with the company. MasterCard executives contacted the merchant bank that handles all of its largest mug-shot site accounts and urged it to drop them as customers. “They are in the process of terminating them,” Mr. Hanft said.

PayPal came back with a similar response after being contacted for this article…

American Express and Discover were contacted on Monday and, two days later, both companies said they were severing relationships with mug-shot sites…

On Friday, Mr. D’Antonio of JustMugshots was coping with a drop in Web traffic and, at the same time, determining which financial services companies would do business with him. “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this,” he said.

Some aren’t completely at ease with search engines and payment companies holding such sway over a website’s success or failure:

I take that point, but I’d also note that Google and MasterCard making these moves is in many ways preferable to misguided legislative attempts that could hurt legitimate journalism as well.

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