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MBS porn-billing firm ceases trading

Pay-for-porn company 'Platte' leaves UK

Platte Media, the controversial pay-for-porn company formerly known as Micro Bill Systems (MBS), has ceased operating in the UK.

MBS rose to infamy in 2007, when PC Advisor readers began complaining about pop-up messages from the company that took over their PCs. Read more in the PC Advisor Consumerwatch forum.

The messages demanded payment for pornographic content on sites users were alleged to have viewed. Readers complained that the only apparent way to remove the pop-ups was to pay the MBS bill and then cancel the 'contract'. Several hacks were produced by concerned forum users to alleviate the problem.

The withdrawal of Platte\MBS from the UK market became public during a recent exchange in Parliament, during which minister Gareth Thomas told the House of Commons: "Platte has now informed the OFT that it would cease trading from 25 February 2009 and that Platte International Ltd. (British Virgin Islands) ceased marketing to the UK from 2 February 2009."

Further details were revealed in an email to journalist Michael Pollitt published in The Guardian. Platte International's Stanley Hiwat told Pollitt: "Our reasons for this decision and our further intentions are simply related to our original marketing and business model.

"Obviously, and just like any other business should and would do, I am making sure that stopping our marketing to the UK Market is done in such a sensible and orderly manner that will best preserve the interests of our customers and of our own."

MBS/Platte specialises in services to the internet industry. Among other things, the firm provides subscription-management services to clients who operate sites that traditionally have problems collecting money - online gambling and sex sites, for instance.

Click the 'Get instant access now' button on one of its sites and, unless you 'unsubscribe' within a set period of time, you may be liable to pay for the content.

Users have complained that they were forced to pay up despite the fact that they hadn't provided their financial or personal details up front. Many were billed quarterly, in advance, at £40 a time. Messages, which affect only Windows PCs, started off being relatively discreet, but some users said that they eventually rendered their PCs virtually unusable - something MBS/Platte admitted it set out to do.

This behaviour is not illegal. The devil is in the small print. Although users may not have realised at the time, by clicking the button to enter a given site and accept a short trial, they also accepted the following terms and conditions:

  • You agreed to download the MBS software
  • You agreed that MBS can use your hard drive and your bandwidth to "share out files and/or provide you with various files required to enable the company and/or MBS to administer the billing system"
  • You agreed that MBS may offer you new features in the future and may update the software on your drive
  • You agreed that to use the new features you may have to pay a fee
  • You agreed that the MBS billing software could download and install supplemental software at any time
  • You agreed that if you didn't pay your subscription, MBS could present you with so many pop-ups that, in its own words, you may lose the ability to use your computer until you have submitted payment

Adding to the distress of PC Advisor readers afflicted by the pop-ups was the embarrassment caused by the nature of the content MBS was providing payment services for. Several PC Advisor users told us they paid the bills simply to stop awkward questions being asked, even though they had no recollection ever of visiting any MBS-affiliated sites.


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