Social network acted like a jerk, faces FTC complaint

A social network labeled people as jerks and charged them to contact customer service and change their profiles, the agency says

The former social network Jerk.com acted like its name would suggest, by allowing users to label others as jerks and then charging people for the ability to change those profiles, but not delivering on that promise, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission complaint

Jerk operated a "social network" at Jerk.com and other domains between 2009 and 2013, the FTC said. The current Jerk.com appears to be unrelated to the old social network.

The old Jerk.com created profiles, many of them harvested from Facebook, for more than 73 million people, the FTC said in a press release. The site operators allegedly charged consumers US$25 to email Jerk.com's customer service department, and $30 for so-called premium features including the ability to dispute information posted on the site.

In many cases, people who paid the fees got nothing in return, the FTC alleged.

Jerk and its operator John Fanning, doing business in Hull, Massachusetts, told consumers they could "use Jerk to manage your reputation and resolve disputes with people who you are in conflict with," according to the FTC's complaint.

In its complaint, the FTC charged that the defendants violated U.S. law by misleading customers into believing that the content on Jerk.com had been created by other users, when most of it was harvested from Facebook. The FTC also charged the company with falsely leading consumers to believe that by paying for a Jerk.com membership they could change their profiles.

The FTC is seeking a court order barring those practices, prohibiting the defendants from using the personal information they improperly obtained, and requiring them to delete the information.

Fanning could not be reached for comment about the old Jerk website.

"In today's interconnected world, people are especially concerned about their reputation online, and this deceptive scheme was a brazen attempt to exploit those concerns," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.Jerk.com profiles often appeared in search engine results when consumers searched for an individual's name, the FTC alleged. The operators registered numerous websites with Facebook and then allegedly used Facebook's application programming interfaces to download the names and photos of millions of Facebook users, which they used to create nearly all the Jerk.com profiles, the FTC alleged.

The site had buttons that allowed users to vote on whether a person was a "jerk" or not, and Jerk profiles included fields in which users could enter personal information about the subject or post comments about them. In some cases, the profile comment fields subjected people to derisive and abusive comments, such as, "I hate this kid he's such a loser," and,""Nobody in their right mind would love you ... not even your parents," the FTC said in its complaint.The profiles also included millions of photos, including those of children and that consumers had designated on Facebook as private, the FTC complaint alleged. Some of them featured intimate family moments, including children bathing and a mother nursing her child, the agency said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags regulationinternetlegale-commerceU.S. Federal Trade CommissionJessica Rich

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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