Who’s The Jerk Now?

Just to be clear, I am not talking about the classic 1979 Steve Martin film.  And as an aside, if you want to check out another side of Steve Martin’s talent, I cannot recommend this CD enough. He is a fantastic banjo player.

But back to my blog. The Jerk to which I am referring is a Web site, that is now the subject of a Federal Trade Commission administrative complaint. “Jerk” operated under any number of names – jerk.com, jerk.be and jerk.org among others. Interesting business model. It held itself out as a site where folks could post a photo of themselves (or someone else) and ask visitors to vote on whether or not the photo subject was indeed a jerk. Voters could also post comments such as “OMG I hate this kid he’s such a loser.” I’m not kidding. This was evidently a money making operation.

According to the FTC, between 2009 and 2013, the site contained between 73.4 and 81.6 million unique consumer profiles. So a lot of people took the time to nominate potential jerks. Or maybe not. And that’s part of the reason for the complaint. It seems that the Jerk operators obtained photos and profile information directly from Facebook (in violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions) and in fact did not receive them from actual users. On top of that, according to the FTC, the Jerk operators ignored and/or bypassed privacy settings and posted in some cases intimate photos which were supposed to be protected by Facebook privacy settings.

And to top it off, Jerk offered a $30 “membership” that it implied would give profile subjects a means to remove the content. And as far as the FTC is concerned, the key verb in the previous sentence is “implied.” Judging from the complaint, a lot of “members” never got removed. And this all constitutes “deceptive practices” which is prohibited by Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. 

The FTC just recently filed the complaint, and the hearing isn’t until January, 2015.  But included in the complaint is a proposed order to resolve the matter. That order includes a permanent injunction limiting Jerk’s use of customer data, and FTC monitoring for 10 years. 

The lesson? Don’t jerk the FTC around. Obviously.