When Philip Cabibi Googled himself, he found a very upsetting result in the 10th place:
“Philip Cabibi Mugshot,” read the title. The description was “Mug shot for Philip Cabibi booked into the Pinellas County jail.”
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 Google’s web crawlers can see them for the first time. Desperate to get off the site, Cabibi quickly found an apparent ally: RemoveSlander.com. “You are not a criminal,” the website said reassuringly. “End this humiliating ordeal … Bail out of Google. We can delete the mug-shot photo.”
He immediately paid RemoveSlander $399 and, within a day, his mugshot was gone from the Google results.
“The RemoveSlander site was perfect. It seemed like it was just tailored to the mug-shot site,” Cabibi said in a recent telephone interview from Orem, Utah. “I searched ‘how to remove mug shots from florida.arrests.org,’ and the site was the first result. And I paid.”
‘Of course I’m not going to have my mug on my site.’
With that, Cabibi passed through one of the latest niche industries on the web: the mug-shot racket.
Exploiting Florida’s liberal public-records laws and Google’s search algorithms, a handful of entrepreneurs are making real money by publicly shaming people who’ve run afoul of Florida law. Florida.arrests.org, the biggest player, now hosts more than 4 million mugs.
I had no idea.