When Philip Cabibi Googled himself, he found a very upsetting result in the 10th place:
â€œPhilip Cabibi Mugshot,â€ read the title. The description was â€œMug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail.â€
After clicking through, he saw his mug shot and book information from a 2007 drunk-driving arrest in Florida. He had no idea it was online for all to see.
The website was florida.arrests.org, a privately run enterprise that siphons booking photos out of county-sheriff databases throughout the Sunshine State, and posts them where Googleâ€™s web crawlers can see them for the first time. Desperate to get off the site, Cabibi quickly found an apparent ally: RemoveSlander.com. â€œYou are not a criminal,â€ the website said reassuringly. â€œEnd this humiliating ordeal â€¦ Bail out of Google. We can delete the mug-shot photo.â€
He immediately paid RemoveSlander $399 and, within a day, his mugshot was gone from the Google results.
â€œThe RemoveSlander site was perfect. It seemed like it was just tailored to the mug-shot site,â€ Cabibi said in a recent telephone interview from Orem, Utah. â€œI searched â€˜how to remove mug shots from florida.arrests.org,â€™ and the site was the first result. And I paid.â€
â€˜Of course Iâ€™m not going to have my mug on my site.â€™
With that, Cabibi passed through one of the latest niche industries on the web: the mug-shot racket.
Exploiting Floridaâ€™s liberal public-records laws and Googleâ€™s search algorithms, a handful of entrepreneurs are making real money by publicly shaming people whoâ€™ve run afoul of Florida law. Florida.arrests.org, the biggest player, now hosts more than 4 million mugs.
I had no idea.