Google pushed out a new algorithm update late last week (in addition to Penguin) aimed at penalizing sites that profit from public mugshots by making people who appear in them pay to have them removed. It's been described as a racket, and has tarnished the online reputations of people, including those who were never actually convicted of any crimes.
The story came to light over the weekend, with the New York Times publishing an in-depth piece about the sites that engage in this, the victims, and what Google is doing about it. Google confirmed to the newspaper that it launched the aforementioned update on Thursday.
Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land took to Twitter to imply that Google seemed to be acting in response to the New York Times article, despite the problem being pointed out earlier this year in an opinion piece by Jonathan Hochman and Jonah Stein on his own Search Engine Land site. Google's Matt Cutts, however, said that Google has been working on this update for months, and that the SEL piece contributed to getting the team to work on it. The timing of the launch, as it corresponds to the NYT piece, however, is certainly interesting.
Either way, the update is out there, but now there are reports that it isn't doing what it's supposed to in all cases - most notably, in a specific case outlined in the NYT piece itself. Maxwell Birnbaum, who was mentioned in the intro to the article still has a result from mugshots.com appear as the top result when you search for his name. The site highlights its "unpublish mugshot" service right at the top of the page.
As Sullivan notes, the update does appear to have helped another victim from the NYT piece - Janese Trimaldi - but even in her results, you don't have to go too far into Google's results to find a DirtSearch.org link, pointing to an arrests lookup for for her name. At least her LinkedIn profile is at the top. And of course, the New York Times piece itself appears in the results.
As Google often says, no algorithm is perfect, but you'd hope it would at least get the first example mentioned in the story that exposed this all to the general public.[via Julio Fernandez/Danny Sullivan]