Are you a “jerk” or “not a jerk”? Well, if you are, apparently the operators of a website called Jerk.com could change that if you paid a $30 fee.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the operators of the website inappropriately harvested personal information from more than 73 million Facebook accounts (many of them younger users) to create fake profiles labeling people one or the other.
Today, the agency announced a cease-and-desist order had been served on the company, which operated between 2009 and 2013. It was operated by Napster co-founder John Fanning, who was served with the complaint. In its complaint, the FTC charges that “the defendants violated the FTC Act by misleading consumers that the content on Jerk.com had been created by other Jerk.com users, when in fact most of it had been harvested from Facebook; and by falsely leading consumers to believe that by paying for a Jerk.com membership, they could access ‘premium’ features that could allow them to change their ‘Jerk’ profile.”
The FTC is seeking an order barring the defendants’ deceptive practices, prohibiting them from using the personal information they improperly obtained, and requiring them to delete the information.
“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.
The site allegedly misled consumers into thinking an acquaintance had created the profile labeling them as a “jerk” or “not a jerk”.
The information was allegedly obtained by using Facebook’s app programming features to download names and photos of Facebook users. Others could share in the fun and pile on by making comments about the person. The whole thing could be cleaned up, the FTC alleges, if users paid a $30 fee, but many subscribers reported never receiving any services.
This is the latest chapter in the “reputation management” business, in which companies get paid to help people clean up their online profiles. There are certainly legitimate companies looking to help people challenge bad information, but in the Internet’s wild, wild West, online profiles are a lot like credit reports: You can challenge erroneous information, but time and good behavior are really the best ways to clean up your reputation.