MBS has responded to our complaints & questions.

  Forum Editor 23:17 13 Jun 2007

As many of you are aware, I have been in contact with MBS on several occasions with regard to the concerns expressed here, in the forum by many of our members relating to the MBS billing system in use on two adult content sites.

The MBS technical director has now responded to the main points raised in the many threads and posts we've seen over the past months, and what follows are his comments in full, and in his words. The responses exceed the thread limit on character count, so I'm going to post multiple threads. If you want to respond to anything that's said please do it in the appropriate thread:

1. Trading Standards:

MBS wrote to both Trading Standards and the OFT once the legal review and production of terms had been done. For a public facing company, this is considered normal and professional practice to ensure correct procedures are followed and agreements are considered fair. We have regular meetings with Trading Standards as we review all concerns pointed at the company from all sources, this forum included. Trading Standards have confirmed they are happy with our procedures and practice. They are compliant with requirements and indeed TS confirmed this recently in the Guardian article. Trading standards has also had access to all our procedures from software management to the entire customer support processes and systems.

2. Customer Support:

MBS has 2 call centres which cover 13 hours a day 7 days a week, with over 60 trained operators. We have defined procedures to manage all enquiries, especially claims of child access. This particular sensitive issue is one that seems to be abused considerably by people who do not wish to pay for what they subscribed to. We record all phone calls and hear many interesting comments made by people in the queues, before the call is answered. We hear plans made to deny known access and claim their children accessed the site, as an excuse not to pay. We put in place a procedure, where child access was claimed, for several reasons; to prevent the computer from further accessing any adult material, to block the bill delivery pending confirmation and a declaration form to be signed by a professionally recognised person (teacher, doctor, etc). A legal agreement was entered into, so must there be a legal closure. This procedure was put in place by our lawyers to satisfy the original agreement. We have an appeals procedure, for those who genuinely belive they have a claim for not paying, to enable their claim to be heard by a third party. We will only consider appeals in exceptional circumstances. We have 100's of 1000's of customers and the majority of people are happy with the service and ask us for ways of reducing their monthly spend by creating price plans. We have listened and implemented this for some sites to enable customers to save money. Unfortunately these happy people are never heard on forums or in the press.

3.No Response:

We originally started to put responses on the forums to help direct people to the customer support teams to assist with their enquiries (this one included) but it turned onto an abuse forum and so was counter productive. It is only since discussing the matter with the forum editor at PCAdvisor that we consider this new forum a better method to answer peoples concerns on a larger, less abusive, scale.

Continued on MBS response (2)

  Diodorus Siculus 06:39 14 Jun 2007

click here for part 2

click here for part 3

  Diodorus Siculus 06:41 14 Jun 2007

"We record all phone calls and hear many interesting comments made by people in the queues, before the call is answered."

Is this common practice in call centres? I should have thought it was but never heard it confirmed before.

  €dstowe 06:46 14 Jun 2007

Whatever Dolly Mixture palliative words are used by MBS in justifying themselves, the fact remains that their business methods cause large numbers of people a lot of distress - distress not caused by other companies providing a similar service.

  helpinghand 10:10 14 Jun 2007

Just so other forum users are aware of what was reported in the Guardian article, this is the relevent extract: "Having received 191 inquiries, West Yorkshire Trading Standards knows all about the problems that many consumers are experiencing. Broadly, though, Trading Standards covering the Leeds area, where MBS operates, backs the company's position. "West Yorkshire Trading Standards have recently held meetings with the company in order to investigate complaints from concerned consumers," says David Lodge, the divisional manager. "It would appear to be very difficult to subscribe to the service without realising. As such, any contracts that are entered into are likely to be legally binding." But he says there will be further meetings with the company."
It is a matter of interpretation whether this means Trading Standards are "happy" with MBS's procedures.

  GANDALF <|:-)> 10:21 14 Jun 2007

'It would appear to be very difficult to subscribe to the service without realising'...is the important sentence. ;-)


  beynac 11:47 14 Jun 2007

'It would appear to be very difficult to subscribe to the service without realising'...

It is actually very easy to 'subscribe' to the service. I could give a link which gives a direct download of the software (obviously, I won't post it!). This link was easily obtainable just from looking at the source code on their web page.

  Forum Editor 13:53 14 Jun 2007

Describing part of the source code of an html page as a link to a 'direct download' is hardly valid in this context is it?

Nobody's going to approach a site in that way.

  beynac 14:31 14 Jun 2007

Yes, I believe that it is valid in this context. I didn't describe the link as 'part of the source code', I said that it was obtainable from looking at the source code. I'm obviously not going to post the link in question.

My point, covered in another thread, is that the process of 'signing up' and downloading the software can be hijacked. MBS say that this is not possible because the user has to tick a box on the page.

When people are directed to the website by advertisers/affiliates they will have the affiliate's reference appended to the url. This is read by javascript (support.js) on the sign-up page. If it is a direct link (someone typed in the url) then a default affiliate id is created. This information is used to create cookies, which are needed by the software installation. At this point all the user has done is to click on a link on an advert. The cookies are set whether or not the user decides to carry on. There is a simple javascript to determine whether the box has been ticked to accept the T&C. The user then clicks on the "GET INSTANT ACCESS NOW!" button. The software is downloaded and installed. The link is directly to the executeable.

My point is that once the cookies have been set, the software can be downloaded and installed, without further checks, by the direct link I mentioned.

I'm not suggesting that anyone would "approach a site in this way". I'm suggesting that their system's not foolproof. MBS seem to put great store by the tickbox as their security check. In my opinion, it would be fairly easy for someone to bypass this.

I'm not in any way alleging that MBS are aware of this happening - quite the reverse.

Based on my experience, I believe that it is possible to set the cookies and download the software without the user being aware of it. If you tell me that it is definitely not possible, I will refrain from mentioning this again.

  €dstowe 15:25 14 Jun 2007

All of this is a totally pointless exercise.

It doesn't matter even if MBS has a Royal Warrant to carry on their business even they must see that their business methods are causing problems, sometimes very severe problems and suicide has mentioned by their "victims" because of the way the systems operate.

MBS have probably created more correspondence on PCA forums than any other subject and all of it is negative. Why do they refuse to see there is something wrong with the way they do business?

A lot of the work my company does comes under the public gaze. If there is one complaint about our work, we look into it. If there are more complaints, we know there is something very amiss and we would most likely have the work withdrawn and then carry out an investigation to check on the validity of the complaint. Even if nothing was seen to be wrong from our point of view, just the fact that there had been public concern would ensure that the offending item was never seen again.

I can't believe that MBS still think that they are in the right and are, apparently, doing nothing to change their methods.

  Forum Editor 15:52 14 Jun 2007

I'm certainly not going to tell you that the MBS system is foolproof - that's not for me to do, and you raise some good points.

As far as the contract terms are concerned I do have a view, however. The terms and conditions applying to an online contract must be agreed by both parties and incorporated into the contract between them, and simply placing them on a website is not enough to incorporate them into a contract. Both the parties must agree that they're entering the contract on the stated terms, and they must do so before (or at the same time as) becoming contractually bound.

When dealing with customers of a website a seller of goods and/or services should ensure that the ordering process requires that a customer reads and agrees to the seller's terms and conditions. The right way to do this is to put the terms and conditions on a separate page in the sales process and require that the customer acknowledges he/she has read them, and agrees to them by clicking an "Agree" or "Accept" button before entering the contract to buy.

Many websites try to speed up the process by placing a 'terms & conditions' link on the main sales process page, and requiring customers to tick a box to confirm that they are accepting those terms and conditions. No tick in the box means the sale can't proceed. Next to, or very near to the box should be a 'buy now' or 'Proceed' button, and also a button allowing them to cancel the sale.

There's a problem inherent in relying on JavaScript based client-side validation to confirm whether a customer has ticked a box, because some customers will have turned turned JavaScript off in their browsers – meaning that they don't tick the box,and the terms and conditions aren't incorporated.

In America there's been a lot of criticism of the so-called "browse-wrap" agreement, which gives an online customer the option to follow a link to the supplier's terms and conditions before placing an order, but doesn't require that they're looked at before ordering. The Federal Trade Commission has spoken out against browse-wraps, and one New York court has ruled that because these agreements do not bring the relevant terms to the attention of the purchaser before the contract is made they are not binding on the purchaser.

This thread is now locked and can not be replied to.

Elsewhere on IDG sites

The Evil Within 2 review-in-progress

Photoshop CC 2018 released with new Curvature Pen and better brush tools

Camera tips to take better iPhone photos

Les meilleures applications de covoiturage 2017