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What Is a Jerk, Exactly? More Important, Why Does the FTC Care and What Does the Internet of Things Have to Do With All of This Attention?

Fernando M. Pinguelo and Sarah Austin

 

For starters, merriam-webster.com defines “jerk” as “a stupid person or [one] not well-liked or who treats other[s] . . . badly.”

 

urbandictionary.com1 leads its definition of the term with:

 

The kind of guy most girls ACTUALLY want when they say they want a Nice Guy.   Jerks are selfish, manipulative bastards who see women as little more then [sic] sexual conquests to brag about to their buddies or mere objects that are there for their personal pleasure. . . .

 

google.com’s pithy, “informal” definition – most apropos for our purposes here – pins it as a “contemptibly obnoxious person.”

 

The FTC is cracking down on a social networking site called jerk.com and on April 7, 2014 charged jerk.com with allegedly deceiving millions of people into paying for site memberships to dispute degrading profiles. Whether the cite epitomizes the aforementioned definitions or otherwise stands up to its namesake, remains to be seen as the claim proceeds.

 

The site, owned by Napster co-founder John Fanning, displays 73 million individual profiles. Jerk.com users can review profiles and choose to label each individual a “jerk” or “not a Jerk.”  The site also encourages users to leave insulting comments on profiles and enter personal information such as a person’s employer, school, address, or phone number. The website offers a $30 membership fee to those who would like to salvage their online reputation, dispute unfavorable information, and clean up their jerk.com profiles.

 

The FTC began its investigation of jerk.com after receiving a slew of complaints regarding the sites membership fee and its misuse of information. In its investigation, the Commission found that:

 

  • most personal information on the site, including photos, was obtained improperly from Facebook;

 

  • many of the profiles were created by operators of jerk.com who used phony Facebook apps to access personal information and build malicious profiles; and

 

  • people who paid the subscription or membership fee received nothing in return and their degrading profile remained posted on the site.

 

The Commission seeks to put an end to the website’s deceptive ways via a court order that would require the site to delete profiles created from stolen Facebook information and prohibit the use of stolen information in the future.

 

Takeaway Lesson: Always report the misuse of your information and be weary when paying for memberships or subscriptions to new or unreliable websites.  As the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT)2 continues to impact our daily lives in previously unfathomable ways, we will likely find ourselves offering, providing, and sharing information about ourselves with greater frequency and in larger contexts.  Thoughtful consideration of the pitfalls will help avoid problems.

 

Endnotes:

[1] urbandictionary.com, the self-defined “veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo, posted and defined by its readers,” burst onto the credibility scene in August 2011 when mainstream reports covered its definition of “murk” as cited in support of a federal criminal complaint.  See http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/feds-consult-urban-dictionary-876543 (last visited Apr. 9, 2014) (reporting on U.S. v. Kemble, Crim. Case No. 3:11-MJ-60-CAN, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana (Aug. 30, 2011). But see Francis v. Davis H. Elliot Construction Co., Inc., et al., 2014 WL 229306 (S.D. Oh. 2014) (defining “Banjo Lips”); U.S. v. Zorn, 2010 WL 2287144 (E.D. Mich. May 27, 2010) (defining “domme“); The Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club of the U.S., Inc., et al. v. “CUSE” Road Dawgs, Inc., et al., 679 F.Supp.2d 259 (N.D.N.Y. 2009) (defining “road dawg”); State v. Harris, 326 Wis.2d 685 (Supreme Court of WI July 14, 2010) (defining “Baby Mama”); Chrisman v. State, 288 S.W.3d 812 (MO Court of Appeals, So. Dist., July 21, 2009) (defining “Homered”).

 

[2] The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the growing variety of devices with the capacity to share or exchange data via the Cloud (e.g., smartwatches, smart cars, smart appliances).

 

Sources include:

 

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/getting-jerked-around?Source=govdelivery

 

http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/04/ftc-charges-operators-jerkcom-website-deceiving-consumers

 

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/04/07/jerk-com-slammed-ftc/c86UfSDG9ZkAJArcai2OhI/story.html

 

http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/07/tech/web/jerk-ftc-charges/

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