Jerk.com and its operator, Napster co-founder John Fanning, improperly harvested users' public information from Facebook to label people a "Jerk" or "Not a Jerk", the US Federal Trade Commission says.
Jerk.com violated the FTC Act by misleading more than 73 million consumers that their content had been created by other users of the website, even though most of it had been taken from Facebook profiles, the agency said.
Victims, including children, were falsely told they could revise their status by paying US$30 to the website, the FTC said. The descriptions would show up in online search results, harming reputations as people could vote and comment on how much of a jerk the person was, the agency said.
"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.
Jerk.com suggested in a statement that the issue was caused by Facebook's privacy policies. The company did not make Fanning, the uncle of another founder of pioneering music-download service Napster, Shawn Fanning, available for comment.
"We were equally horrified to discover that Facebook is placing personal information from its users including name and photographs in the public domain without requiring any agreement to its terms of service where anyone can acquire it," Jerk.com said in a statement, referring to Facebook's online directory.
Facebook said it takes breaches of its terms of service seriously.
"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," Facebook spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina said.
An evidentiary hearing is scheduled to begin before an administrative law judge at the FTC on January 27, 2015.