For millions of people who have been arrested in certain counties in the United States, the online mug shot industry has become a real-life nightmare, reports Gizmodo. Entrepreneurs use screen-scraping programs to expeditiously snag the shots electronically from law enforcement websites, and then post them to their own sites. Even people who are never prosecuted or are proven innocent go into these databases. The result is an internet lousy with mug shot purveyors, from mugshots.com to mugshotsusa.com to bustedmugshots.com. In 2011, florida.arrests.org had more than 4 million mug shots in its collection–about 1,500 more each day.
Many of the websites make money from ad revenue alone via Google AdSense banners, but, as Wired magazine reported, some of the sites also work in cahoots with mug shot-removal services. Florida.arrests.org, for instance, has given the people behind RemoveSlander.com a URL through which they can click a button and make a PayPal payment of $19.90. Pay the fee, which florida.arrests.org keeps, and the mug shot disappears from the site and from Google’s index. To take down mug shots from three websites, RemoveSlander charges $699, and for six websites the price is $1,299. Its catchphrase is “Bail out of Google.” Danielle Dirks, assistant professor of sociology at Occidental College, is putting together a study based on interviews with men and women who have had their mug shots put on the internet. She calls the phenomenon “penal spectatorship.”