Jane Says

She guides you through online erotica

My editor was online the other day, surfing an adult site (for factchecking purposes only, he swears), and he got stuck. Every time he tried to get out, they just kept pulling him back in: new windows would open for every one he closed, no matter how many times he tried to leave the site. Eventually, the only way he could think of to escape was to shut down his computer completely.Tales abound of hapless Internet users who got screwed by adult Web sites-and not in the way they expected. A couple of years ago, a bunch of folks downloaded free software that purported to let them view adult pictures online; instead, it secretly used their modems to rack up millions in long-distance phone charges to Moldova. Wired News reported last year that the Better Business Bureau had logged scores of complaints from Southern California customers against an LA-based online-sex vendor called Xpics; they claimed the company made it nearly impossible to cancel their paid subscriptions to adult sites. The Federal Trade Commission charged several California Internet companies with fraudulent billing practices on Jan. 12. And every day, well-meaning surfers like my editor get trapped in a labyrinth of constantly opening browser windows.Jane Duvall calls it "console hell." Duvall runs a highly respected guide to adult sites called Jane's 'Net Sex Guide (www.janesguide.com). She and her fiance have published reviews of more than 3,000 adult sites since they went online in June 1997, and they've seen every trick less-than-scrupulous adult-site operators have to offer. "We were at an industry thing, and we actually had a company come up and say, 'We have exit traffic, and it opens up two or three more windows when someone tries to leave your site-to give them more options!"' she said. "They were trying to present it very positively, when the truth is they're just doing anything they can to optimize their traffic at the expense of surfers."Jeez-just when you thought you'd discovered an alternative to exchanging bodily fluids in this post-STD world, it turns out virtual sex isn't safe either. What's an innocent consumer of smut supposed to do?Duvall has some suggestions for how surfers can protect themselves against the unscrupulous vendors just begging to take advantage of them. Call it a virtual condom, if you will: if you're going to have sex online, at least do it responsibly. And make sure you clean off your computer afterward.OC Weekly: What would you say are some of the more common unscrupulous methods adult-site operators use?Jane Duvall: The most common one right now is the use of a "free trial." When the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) passed Congress last fall, a lot of people started saying: 'Okay. We have to have a credit card to verify your age before you can see the preview, and honestly, we'll only use it to verify your age." But if you got to the fine print in the terms and conditions, you'd see you were actually signing up for a one-week free trial, which turned into a monthly billing-anywhere from $10 to $45. COPA-of course, now the ACLU has won a permanent injunction against it, so it's kind of a moot point-specifically said that people could not use credit-card information collected for billing purposes, but most people I knew didn't even read that part of the law.What about the ones where they get you to sign up and then basically refuse to cancel?There are still companies doing things that we don't think are too great. One company offering a free one-month subscription says in its terms and conditions that they will bill you for a minimum of three months. So you might join it thinking, hey, I can cancel it after a month. Well, you really can't. Another company's terms and conditions said they'd keep billing you for three months after you cancel. There are people who use these kinds of tricks out there, and they're not going away any time soon.Would you say that most free trial offers are deceptive, or is this a small majority of adult sites?They're not all deceptive. There are a lot that are upfront, saying the free trial will turn into a recurring subscription. And if they say it on the same page on which you enter your credit-card information, that's what I'd look for. Anyone who's trying to hide it from you by burying it in the terms and conditions is probably not a good site to join because they might ignore your e-mail when you try to cancel or make the cancellation process difficult. Dig for the fine print. It will be there somewhere. Look for the asterisk or the tiny little link that says "Terms and Conditions," and then you usually have to read about halfway down to find where it says how much you'll be billed and how often. But it's gonna be there.The other thing I do whenever I sign up anywhere is take screen shots of the whole process. And I take screen shots of the cancellation process, because you need something to back up what you say. And if you have that and you do go to cancel and you let them know you have that, you're less likely to have a problem. They'll take care of you then.On your site, you say you have a profound dislike for "top lists"-sites that list member adult sites by rankings. What's so bad about them?As a Webmaster, your ranking on their list is based on how much traffic you send them. And they just move huge amounts of traffic. I mean, a good-I shouldn't say "good"-top list is effective at what they're trying to do, which is send hundreds of thousands of hits per day back and forth. But the problem with that is it gives every site listed an incentive to send all their traffic away, right from their front page. So we see people using every trick they can to do that. A lot of times, people will obscure the URL on a link with JavaScript, so you'll see something like "Click here for free pictures," and you click there, and all of a sudden, you're back at the same list you just left. You could potentially-and it happened to us when we were new to the Web-endlessly surf from one site to another, never finding the real content area anywhere, just seeing a lot of ads. Are there any other kinds of scams that are a problem for the adult online industry?I've seen scams where somebody will have a credit-card input field where there's really not a pay site behind it to join; they're just gathering credit-card information to sell for people to use fraudulently. Do an Internic lookup. Make sure it looks at least legitimate. I don't want to give people the impression that they can't look at erotica online without getting scammed. How big a problem is it, really? I would say that the sites that are doing the bad things are not the majority at all. If you look for something that has a nonrecurring subscription, those are probably best. But a lot of really good people do subscription signups, and as long as their information is accessible and they have good contact information, people shouldn't necessarily be worried about it. I really think most of the people we review are good people. There are a lot of costs involved in running a site, and they're just honestly charging for what it is they're giving. I think [scams] need to be talked about if the industry's going to self-police better. But I don't want to scare people away, either, because we like erotica online.Try to scam Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net.

 
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