The Haggler: Trying to Minimize the Misery of Mug Shots

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But inevitably, the sites have figured out ways around Google’s changes. Unfortunately, Google now seems a step behind.

Q. A mug-shot website called Bail Bond City, got hold of a nonaccident misdemeanor D.U.I. arrest I had nearly 30 years ago, and now it’s one of the first entries to come up if my name is searched on Google. (It doesn’t appear at all under Bing or Yahoo.) The site claims that it is “fully ad supported,” but click on any of the listings, and you’re bounced to an “erase mug shots” site that charges for deletions.

It’s hard to believe that Google wants these unscrupulous sites to wreck the online reputation of thousands of people. Maybe it is time for you to nudge the company into action again.

Name Withheld, Ditto, Hometown

A. According to the Florida division of corporations and domain name records, Bail Bond City is owned by Kyle Grant 1 LLC, which owns a handful of other bail-related sites, including orangecountyflbail.com and orlandobondsmen.com. (Neither site is functioning.) For reasons that may remain a mystery, the LLC also owns fatpeoplehate.com and trophywifefitness.com. How exactly those two were intended to make money is not clear. Those sites aren’t working either.

Mr. Grant’s brother, Travis Paul Grant, is listed on records for Kyle Grant 1 LLC. Exactly how the brothers split Bail Bond City duties is unclear and not something the Haggler can illuminate. The brothers Grant did not respond to emails or phone messages, though, honestly, the Haggler isn’t sure what he would have said had they been in touch: “Uh, could you guys find something else to do? Really, any other job would be better.”

But getting worked up about those who want to monetize shame is a waste of energy. If the Grants abandoned their business tomorrow, someone else would step into the void. Again, this is a Google issue. And given the vast sums the company earns — it reported more than $5 billion in net income in the last quarter of the year — it ought to spend a few bob keeping mug-shot sites in the basement of its results.

The Haggler knows this is a challenge. There are legitimate sites that host mug shots, including those related to law enforcement, not to mention a lot of newspapers. The trick is finding a way to punish sites that charge to delete an image and then making adjustments as those sites attempt to escape whatever filter Google has devised.

The Haggler contacted Google in mid-December, asking if the company would revisit the mug-shot issue. Kara Stockton, a spokeswoman, responded soon after, but it was more than a month before she provided a statement. Here’s the whole thing:

“We continue to refresh the algorithm and we’re always making improvements to our search algorithms to keep up with the constantly evolving web.”

The Haggler appreciates that Google can’t share details, for the same reason that an army can’t announce its strategy before an attack. Happily, though, the company’s latest counterassault seems to be working. The guy who alerted the Haggler about Bail Bond City emailed recently to say that when his name is searched on Google, his mug shot no longer appears as the second result, as had long been true. It is not even on the first page.

It is on the second page, which is not a bad start.

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