Wired's David Kravets has a long look at the sleazy world of online mugshot blackmail. Rob Wiggen, a convicted fraudster, founded Florida.arrests.org 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 RemoveSlander.com and RemoveArrest.com charge hundreds of dollars to get images removed from arrests.org (arrests.org 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 arrests.org 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 florida.arrests.org, 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 florida.arrests.org, and to force Google to get the URL removed from Google’s search index.
Asked how he accomplishes that, Jacques told Wired.com 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 arrests.org database.
(Image: Robert Wiggen's 2005 mug shot, Leon County Sheriff's Office)