Mugshot sites and mugshot removal sites: unholy blackmail symbiosis

Wired's David Kravets has a long look at the sleazy world of online mugshot blackmail. Rob Wiggen, a convicted fraudster, founded when he got out of prison. It scrapes Florida's law enforcement websites and builds a Google-indexable database of mugshots of people who've been arrested, making no distinction between people who are convicted, people whose charges are dropped, people who are acquitted, and even includes children as young as 11. Each is titled with the person's name and captioned like so: "Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail." These show up in Google's search-results for the named people.

Companies like and charge hundreds of dollars to get images removed from ( is festooned with lucrative, automatically placed ads for RemoveArrests, thanks to Google's ad-matching algorithm). They claim to use some "proprietary" process to do this, but Kravets speculates that they're just paying $19.90 and using the poorly signposted removal service offered by itself.

It's a nasty story about the downside of government transparency, and Steven Aftergood from the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists worries that it'll be a poster-child for attacking sunshine laws like Florida's open records system.

For $399, RemoveSlander promises to take that fight to, and force Wiggen to remove a mug shot. RemoveSlander’s owner, Tyronne Jacques — the author of How to Fight Google and Win! — said the removal fee pays for his crack legal team to deal with, and to force Google to get the URL removed from Google’s search index.

Asked how he accomplishes that, Jacques told it was “a trade secret.” A recent press release from the company called the work “daunting.”

“It can’t happen by magic,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are legal means that we use…. There is a tremendous amount of work to get the photos down...”

Wiggen said he has provided RemoveSlander an URL for an automated takedown script on his site. A PayPal payment of just $9.95 will automatically purge a mug shot from the site. For an expedited removal from Google’s index, which Wiggen’s code performs through Google’s Webmaster tools interface, the fee is $19.90. Wiggen said other removal sites also make use of that same URL, but he declined to name them.

RemoveSlander “presses a button and makes a payment, and my website handles it automatically,” Wiggen said.

Founder Ron Wiggen does not include his own mugshot in the database.

Mug-Shot Industry Will Dig Up Your Past, Charge You to Bury It Again

(Image: Robert Wiggen's 2005 mug shot, Leon County Sheriff's Office)


  1. “Founder Ron Wiggen does not include his own mugshot in the database.”

    Because he can now more than afford the cost of removing it from the database…

  2. Paying this reptile to put one’s name on their name on his robots.txt doesn’t mean much.  Anyone could make their own version of, or maybe simply make lookalike / sockpuppets based on’s robots file. 

    imagine: pay the ransom and find yourself on thirty more websites the next day.

  3. Can someone explain to me what possible public purpose the release of mugshots of those not convicted of crimes can possibly serve?

  4. Of course, the downside for me is that I seem to be guilty of many various types of domestic assault offenses as well as a few general assault offenses. The upside, though, is that my name is common enough that I appear to be the man of a thousand faces, or at minimum, a hundred.

    An additional issue I can see to public shaming is the difficulty posed in trying to find work in this age of internet job application submissions. HR departments these days don’t seem to care about hearing any explanations for “apparent” bad behavior, whether the accused has been found guilty or not. They just drop you from the applicant pool with the press of a button.

  5. How many people pronounce URL as “earl” (as this article indicates)?  Do those same people pronounce WTF as “wuhteef”?

  6. So his business model is blackmail, plain and simple.  And it’s perfectly legal.

    This cozy business model will only work as long as there’s just one main website posting the mugshots.  I could register today, get my mugshots the same way this guy does, but refuse to take them down when requested by RemoveSlander.  Or charge RemoveSlander $1000 per removal, instead of the $20 that this site does.   This would effectively put both RemoveSlander and out of business.

  7. Another option would be to post a whole bunch of pictures of yourself petting kittens, helping old ladies across the road, curing cancer etc etc. Then do some SEO work to ensure that those images/pages come first in Google’s search results, while that embarrassing mugshot gets driven down to page 432 of Google’s results.

    This service is available from my website at a special introductory price of just $250 (introductory offer includes 10 pictures with your choice of up to 5 kittens each, additional kittens are available for just $19.99).

  8. This is just like credit restoration, its crazy that this site would release the photos of the people and  charge them to take it off. Its like going to the local supermarket and making a  purchase then your photo is taken and put out to the public of what you bought and  the location of the store. Then you have to pay them just to erase  the public record of you being at  the store which is absurd.

  9. I’m lucky none of my bad my mug shots aren’t in the system. I was sufficiently strange enough that the cops  took them all home to show their friends. <- not kidding.

  10. Now this is the sort of business that I’d be happy to see get hacked on a daily basis.  Surely there are some LolzSec or Anon hackers out there who’d be happy to do some good by nuking these jerks?

  11. I hate to be the raincloud in the room, but:
    Someone actually thinks that sympathy for the rights of accused criminals will lead the public to think negatively about transparency?

    Doesn’t that sound a little bit naive? People seem pretty content to simply assume that anything bad happening after an arrest is the result of being guilty.

    1. The key word being “Accused” and not “Guilty”. This web site doesn’t make that distinction, which can have severe effects upon someone caught up in that situation.

      1. right… not including the outcome is intentional libelous even if not used for blackmail. in fact if it was NOT libelous, it wouldn’t be able to be used for blackmail anyway in many cases.

    2. “Someone actually thinks that sympathy for the rights of accused
      criminals will lead the public to think negatively about transparency?”

      Well, it seems to be happening for a few forums posters over on the piece Cory did about the suspected cellphone thief.

      Of course, this makes the issue much more problematic. Is it fair to post mugshots (accused, but not guilty or innocent…yet), but not “have you seen this man/woman” images?

  12. In Florida, arrest records including pictures are used in print and TV broadcasts called news. is also reporting public information, albeit on a much larger scale. Should they publicize their removal tools? Absolutely. But they aren’t really the problem. They aren’t charging hundreds of dollars for an automated removal.

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