Feds accuse Jerk.com of scraping Facebook, cheating users

Federal Trade Commission

(CNN) — Every now and then, being a jerk on the Internet can result in some unwanted attention.

From 2009 to 2013, the operators of Jerk.com created profiles for millions of people, including children, using information that was scraped off Facebook, according to charges filed Monday by the Federal Trade Commission. The site continues to operate.

The profiles, which were supposedly created by users of the site, labeled people a “Jerk” or “Not a Jerk.” Also, the site claimed — falsely, according to the FTC — that the subjects could edit their profiles if they paid a $30 membership fee.

The complaint says that, in fact, operators of the site created more than 73 million profiles with Facebook information, some of which had been posted as private and which included intimate images such as parents bathing their young children and a mother breast-feeding. Many users who paid to join the site received nothing in return, according to the FTC.

“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.

An attorney for Jerk.com did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. But in a document from last year seeking to dismiss the case, Maria Crimi Speth called the government’s case against the site a “fishing expedition.”

She wrote that profiles on the site, which received almost 100,000 visitors a day, are created by users and that profiles generally display “information that is publicly available in a Google Internet search as well as newly created user generated content.” She also said that the site deleted profiles of children 14 and younger if those profiles were brought to their attention.

The document also claimed that, in 2012, only 22 people subscribed to the site and its total revenue was about $3,000.

Jerk.com profiles included buttons that allowed users to vote on whether someone was a “jerk” or not, as well as add personal information and comments about that person. In some cases, the FTC said, those comments were “derisive and abusive.”

The FTC says that the site created phony Facebook apps that operators then used to download the names and photos of millions of users.

The commission is seeking a court order barring the “deceptive practices,” prohibiting Jerk.com from using information they obtained improperly and requiring them to delete profiles created from scraped Facebook information.

The-CNN-Wire

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