Whilst you are going about your day-to-day tasks online, you may be blissfully unaware that a website is creating a profile about you, using your personally identifiable information without your knowledge or consent, and this site will use your profile to encourage others to say negative or nasty things about you.
A pretty reprehensible website came to our attention yesterday. Jerk.com (we’re not linking to it, we don’t want to increase its SEO value) is a site that either manually or automatically scrapes information about you such as your name and photo (often taken without permission from Facebook.com, remember your profile picture is public). It uses this information to create a profile about you, and upon this profile users can anonymously label you a jerk, say nasty things about your character or write “reports” on you. Viewers are also invited to post people on the site themselves, or even include their entire email or social website contact list on the site, without anyone’s consent, of course.
But perhaps the worst thing about this site is that despite the prominent “Remove Me” option on each profile, viewers are actually told there is no way of removing their profile – because the information they have on you was publically available at the time, and thus they can pretty much do what they want with it.
Jerk.com is somehow funded, at least in part, by John Fanning, ex-CEO of Napster, according to Huffington Post blogger Crystal Haidl. The site has rightly been the target of much criticism lately and is fuelling the on-going debate about online freedom of speech vs. defamation. At what point does the First Amendment stop protecting us and when have we gone too far? Have you gone too far when your site appears nothing more than a conduit for libel and bullying?
However there is good news for those in protest of such a site, and that come in the form of copyright infringement laws which are far easier to enforce than potential defamation or libel suits. Despite what Jerk.com claim, just because they trawled the Internet looking for public information on you, it does not mean they have the right to keep it online regardless of your pleas to remove it.
In fact, according to ipwatchdog.com, disgruntled and unwitting “members” of Jerk.com have the right to have all their personally identifiable information (i.e. their photo) removed using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) which gives the copyright holder the right to request a website remove a photo to which they hold the copyright to. If you didn’t know, the copyright holder is whoever took the photo.
To get the photo removed, the copyright holder would need to email the web host of Jerk.com as it is their servers that host the website. (If you didn’t take the photo, get the person who did to email for you) Although the web host has initial immunity over copyright infringement cases they will become liable if they ignore your requests to remove a photo, so they usually will act pretty quickly. You can find the abuse related emails for the webhost by doing a WHOIS search for Jerk.com.
So if you do find yourself an unfortunate participant in the Jerk.com experience then fire their webhost a DCMA request. If you don’t know what to write, ipwatchdog.com even has a sample letter here for you to copy and paste!
What do you think? Regardless of copyright infringement issues, do you think sites like Jerk.com should exist? Have they gone too far? Do you think they provide another avenue for cyber-bullying?