Google recently introduced an algorithm change which has the effect of significantly demoting the search result rank of mugshots appearing on various private websites that publish mugshots. The alteration has effectively hidden from public view the criminal history of the overwhelming majority of those individuals arrested and convicted in this country.
Although it is true that all of these records are public and thus available from the various government agencies that created them, it would be a virtually impossible, and certainly prohibitively time-consuming, task to attempt to contact each agency individually to determine if a particular person has a criminal history.
For example, first, you would have to know every place the person lived and check with each law enforcement agency in the local area. But how far from the person’s residence should you search—25, 50, 100 miles? And what if the person was arrested in a different state from where his or her residence is located, how would you locate that arrest?
The reality is no one is going to perform such an extensive search even though the information sought has the potential of being extremely significant to a person’s, among other considerations, financial or physical well-being. This is not idle speculation. There is an entire ‘online reputation management’ industry devoted to the goal of pushing down a person’s negative online information past Google’s first results page because data show that the overwhelming majority of Internet users do not click beyond that first page with many users not even bothering to scroll down to the bottom of the all-important first page. If Internet users are unwilling to click through to the second search results page, there is little chance that they will painstakingly search multiple government websites even if they know exactly which ones to search. Accordingly, if information does not appear in that first results page, it is very unlikely that it will ever be viewed and thus effectively hidden from public view. Thus, those records are open and available to the public in theory, but not in practice.
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