FTC accuses Jerk.com of being, well, jerks

Are you a jerk? If so, you may be among the up to 81 million people listed on Jerk.com, a social network that purports to let members profile others who they think merit that label.

There's just one thing: Jerk.com users themselves didn't list the alleged jerks, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday. Rather, Jerk.com itself created the entries, which also allow users to label people as "not a jerk," as a way to bait consumers into paying to revise their online profiles. The site mostly harvested its content from Facebook, the agency said in charging the operators of the site with deceptive practices.

"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," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement.

In a complaint, the agency said Jerk.com profiles often turned up in Internet searches. Seeing their photos on the social network, consumers mistakenly assumed that someone they knew had listed them on the site.

Jerk.com also registered other websites with Facebook in order to download the names and photos of millions of Facebook users, according to the FTC. That content, which included photos of children, was then used to create nearly all of the profiles on Jerk.com.

"Some photos featured intimate family moments, including children bathing and a mother nursing her child," the agency said in its complaint, noting that such photographs were collected without parents' knowledge.

In inviting consumers to use the site, Jerk.com also allegedly charged people $25 to email the company's customer service department. Users were also told they could pay $30 to dispute information on Jerk.com. Consumers who paid these fees often got nothing in return, the FTC said.

Facebook sent a "cease and desist" letter to Jerk.com in 2012.

"We take breaches of our terms seriously," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "We applaud the FTC and will continue to work with them as they pursue Jerk.com and others that seek to abuse people who use our service."

The FTC is seeking a court order that would bar Jerk.com's owners and its operator, John Fanning, from using the personal information they are said to have gathered from Facebook. The site would also be required to delete the information.

  • Alain Sherter On Twitter»

    Alain Sherter is an award-winning business journalist who has written for The Deal, MarketWatch and Thomson Financial Media.

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