Debates have raged over whether to include a "dislike" button on Facebook, so imagine a site with "jerk" and "not a jerk" tags. That's exactly what billionaire Napster co-founder John Fanning tried to do with his Jerk.com creation; and now he's under fire by the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC filed a complaint (PDF) on Monday alleging that Jerk.com dishonestly harvested personal information from millions of Facebook users to create profiles that labeled people either "jerk" or "not a jerk." The site then reportedly told users they had to pay $30 to access "premium" features that would let them dispute the "jerk" tags.
"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," director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said in a statement.
According to the FTC, more than 73 million people, including children, had their personal information posted on Jerk.com between 2009 and 2013. Some of the photos allegedly showed children without consent from their parents; reportedly, there were even photos of children bathing and a mother nursing her baby.
The site also encouraged users to post comments on people's profiles, which were said to have had a bullying nature. "Omg I hate this kid he\'s such a loser," one comment said. "Nobody in their right mind would love you ... not even your parents love [you]," read another.
The FTC alleges that Jerk.com misled consumers into thinking that all the profiles on Jerk.com were created by other Jerk.com users -- however, the majority of the profiles were reportedly harvested from Facebook. These profiles also tended to appear in search engine results.
To get the Facebook data, Jerk.com's operators allegedly tapped into Facebook's application programming interfaces and built apps that were able to download the names and photos of millions of people.
In March 2012, when Facebook realized that Jerk.com was violating its terms of service by using apps to scrape user data, the social network disabled some of their apps and sent the site a cease and desist letter. At that time, Facebook also began cooperating with the FTC in its investigation of Jerk.com.
"We take breaches of our terms seriously," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET. "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 Jerk.com site is no longer in service; the URL currently using Jerk.com is not affiliated with the FTC's complaint.
The FTC is seeking to bar Jerk.com's "deceptive practices," stop the site from using people's personal information, and make it delete any harvested information. An evidentiary hearing regarding the complaint is scheduled before an administrative law judge at the FTC on January 27, 2015.