The Internet

Published on April 7th, 2014

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Who’s a Jerk?

In a move against a website whose name (we think anyway) could not be more fitting, the FTC has charged that the operators of Jerk.com misled consumers into believing members of the site were posting unflattering things about them and that if they paid the company they would be able to revise the comments.

The agency is alleging that the social networking site, which contained between 70 and 80 million unique consumer profiles including those of children, was actually using information from Facebook and that consumers who paid $30 to subscribe to the site thinking it would permit them to alter or delete their profiles and dispute false information were often not able to do so.

The site, based in Hingham, Mass. and run by John Fanning, featured a person’s first and last name, and a button directly underneath that allowed users to vote whether the person was a  “Jerk” or “not a Jerk.”

The profiles also contained fields where any user could enter personal information about the subject, including age, address, email, phone number, and school, as well make comments. (Comments posted on the site ran the gamut from “Omg, I hate this kid he’s such a loser” to “Nobody in their right mind would love you.”)

Although the site had some user-generated content, the FTC said that the vast majority of the profiles were created from improperly obtained Facebook information. The profiles included photographs posted on Facebook that Facebook users had indicated were only to be disseminated to limited groups. Some of these photos posted on Jerk were of intimate family moments, such children bathing and a mother nursing her child.

Jerk also advertised that members could:

Find out what your ‘friends’ are saying about you behind your back to the rest of the world.

And that members could dispute their reputation on the site:

Just because you have a profile on Jerk does not mean you are a jerk. Less than 5% of the millions of people on Jerk are jerks. Jerk is where you find out if someone is a jerk, is not a jerk, or is a saint in the eyes of others. No one’s profile is every removed…You can however use Jerk to manage your reputation and resolve disputes with people who you are in conflict with. There are also additional paid premium features that are available.

But the FTC is alleging that in numerous instances, consumers who paid for a standard membership received nothing from respondents in exchange for their payments and that the website made it difficult for consumers to contact the company by charging a $25 fee to email Jerk’s customer service department.

The agency is heading to court to get the company to stop the allegedly jerky behavior.

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A website that allows you to build a profile and connect with others

A personal page you create on a social networking or other website to share information about yourself and communicate with others

Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number

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