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iBill hardware failure

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Troubled billing processor iBill has again been forced to take its customer database offline, risking excess credit card charges for subscribers to thousands of adult web sites.

The latest meltdown, blamed circuitously on a "hardware failure on a non-redundant database", led to iBill's private and public customer service sites being taken offline for several days last week, the second major downtime within three months.

Site owners trying to access subscriber records during the downtime were told why the database was offline, and were supplied with regular status reports, as well as an estimated time for restoration of service, and the customary apologies for inconvenience and assurances that transactions were still being processed.

In contrast, subscribers trying to cancel their accounts were simply redirected from one search page to another, both of which had been deactivated, with no explanation of why.

Following a system failure in October of last year, iBill said it was bringing forward a $320,000 investment in hardware and software upgrades.

Then in November, the company told site owners that it had "purchased and deployed state of the art hardware, which will provide continuous service even during a system failure".

But the new system was clearly incapable of working through last week's failure, which is said to have necessitated a rebuild of the primary customer database.

The risk to customers this time was the same as during last October's failure: Someone wanting to cancel their account during the downtime may have been unable to, potentially leading to unwanted charges. The greatest risk was to people who had taken out trial memberships, which generally cost between $3 and $10 for up to a week and then automatically upgrade to a full subscription costing much more.

This time, iBill did at least give site owners a phone number that customers could call to cancel their accounts. The number was toll-free for US residents, but was charged at international rates for overseas customers.

And some cut-and-paste HTML code for cancellations was given out, which could be added to a web site to allow customers to cancel if they knew their subscription ID number.

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