This post about the FTC’s law enforcement action against Craig Brittain will be a little different. No bullet points parsing the nuances of complaint allegations. No tips and takeaways for savvy marketers. No admonitions about industry best practices. Given that the “industry” in question is revenge porn, the facts pretty much speak for themselves.
Mr. Brittain’s now-defunct site – isanyonedown.com – featured an assortment of explicit photos and personal information about the people in the pictures. Why this FTC foray into the seamier side of technology? Because according to the complaint, what Mr. Brittain did violated the FTC Act. And when it comes to Section 5 violations, the FTC is most definitely not down with that.
The complaint challenges the unfair and deceptive practices Brittain used to obtain and disseminate content for the site. Brittain encouraged people (usually men) to send naked pictures of others (usually women). He also required the submitter to give the subject’s full name, age, city and state, phone number, and a link to their Facebook profile – all of which (and more) Brittain posted without the subject’s knowledge or permission.
Another of Mr. Brittain’s tactics: He posed as a woman on Craigslist and sent women explicit pictures, asking them to reciprocate. He posted those photos, too, also without the subject’s knowledge or permission.
In addition, Brittain employed a “bounty system.” Anyone could request that others post explicit pictures of a specific person in exchange for a reward of at least $100. Brittain pocketed a “listing fee” of $20 and half the reward.
Brittain grouped the photos by state. Visitors could add comments, which often included (surprise, surprise) derogatory or sexually explicit statements about the people in the pictures. All told, Brittain posted personal information and explicit photos of more than 1,000 unsuspecting people.
Was Brittain’s the only site of its kind? No, but like any business trying to distinguish itself from the competition, he touted his site’s unique selling point – in this case, what he characterized as a “higher level of hatred.” During the almost two years isanybodydown.com was in business, some women were contacted by creeps who tracked them down through information on the site. Many subjects reached out to Brittain directly, distraught that an online name search could yield the photos and thus hurt their families, their reputations, or their job prospects. In many cases, he didn’t remove the content in response to their requests.
Don’t bleach your brain just yet because there’s more. The site also advertised purported content removal services by businesses that used the names “Takedown Hammer” and “Takedown Lawyer.” They promised to get stuff removed – for a hefty fee, of course. And who was behind those content removal companies? Brittain, of course.
Count I of the complaint charges that it was an unfair practice under Section 5 for Brittain to post explicit photos and personal information about the subjects for commercial gain and without their consent when he knew or should have known they had a reasonable expectation the images wouldn’t be disseminated for that purpose. Count II challenges Brittain’s practice of soliciting photos with the false implication they were for his personal use. The proposed settlement requires Brittain to get written consent before posting explicit images in connection with the sale of goods or services. It also requires him to destroy all the personal information – including pictures – collected through his site.
You can file an online comment about the settlement by March 2, 2015.