Adware, shady marketing pays: Penthouse buys AdultFriendFinder and sister sites

Adware, shady marketing pays: Penthouse buys AdultFriendFinder and sister sites

Summary: Penthouse Media Group has acquired Various Inc., a company that operates a stable of adult-oriented social networking sites such as AdultFriendFinder, Gradfinder and others.

TOPICS: Malware, Security

Penthouse Media Group has acquired Various Inc., a company that operates a stable of adult-oriented social networking sites such as AdultFriendFinder, Gradfinder and others.

The New York Times reports:

While the influx of free and low-cost video has hurt the sale of pornographic videos, the chief executive of the Penthouse Media Group remains so bullish on the sex-related entertainment industry that he is investing $500 million in a group of social networking sites.

Marc H. Bell, chief executive of Penthouse Media, said the company had acquired Various Inc. and its subsidiaries as part of a plan to expand its reach. Various operates more than 25 networking sites and says it has a member base of more than 260 million consumers, about 1.2 million of them paying subscribers.

The combined revenue of both companies is projected to be $340 million in 2007.

But there are other takeaways from this deal:

  • Advertising in spyware pays;
  • Shady marketing tactics pay;
  • Fake MySpace pages pay.

Various settled with the Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 6 for pelting consumers with pornographic pop-up ads.  The FTC said in its statement:

According to the FTC,, which touts itself as “The World’s Largest Sex & Swingers Personal Community,” and its affiliates use pop-up ads to drive traffic to its Web sites. Some of the ads have included graphic depictions of sexual behavior, exposing consumers, including children, to sexually explicit images. Such ads were displayed to consumers who were searching online using terms such as “flowers,” “travel,” and “vacations.” In some cases, defendant’s sexually explicit ads were distributed using spyware and adware.

The agency alleged that the practice of displaying graphic pop-up ads without consumer consent was unfair, and violated the FTC Act.

Meanwhile, AdultFriendFinder ads were regulars in spyware applications.

Under the FTC settlement, Various is barred from displaying sexually explicity ads to consumers unless they are actively seeking it out. The company also has to end relationships with affiliates that don't comply with the order. The FTC is now monitoring Various.

Alex Eckelberry on Sunbelt Software's blog said he "can only hope that Penthouse understands what it’s getting into, including the fact that it’s unknown whether or not the AFF’s high growth can continue with the FTC’s oversight on its practices."

In other words, Various' growth is largely attributed to shady practices. Various obviously knows this and looked to sell. Not a bad deal--unless you're Penthouse.

Topics: Malware, Security

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  • It's long been suspected...

    ...that Penthouse is owned by scumbags. I think it's just been proven, beyond any reasonable doubt.
    John L. Ries
  • Why would anyone bother with these pay for porn sites ?

    Go to and watch all the free porn you want . No strings attached .
    • Gee, why is no one surprised

      you know all about internet pron....
      • I'm surprised...

        ... that he can type with one hand.
        Hallowed are the Ori
        • Here's an even bigger surprise .

          I got to upload some porn of me and my ex biatches on
        • He's no typyist ...

          He's a hunt and pecker, if you ask me ...
    • AdultFriendFinder is NOT porn

      ...per se. it's a sexually-oriented social networking site, years ahead of Myspace and Facebook. As usual, the adult-oriented industry leads the way. Personally I found it to be very attractive; their free teaser membership features tempted me to join up paid (I didn't, but that was due to personal social circumstances--I got engaged). Lately they advertise using banner ads on the sides of adult entertainment portals. When I deleted my free membership I never received any unsolicited mail from them. I predict that Penthouse will do quite nicely on this deal.
  • Bad Conclusion

    Sorry, Ryan, but your conclusion isn't supported by your evidence.

    "Alex Eckelberry on Sunbelt Software???s blog said he 'can only hope that Penthouse understands what it???s getting into, including the fact that it???s unknown whether or not the AFF???s high growth can continue with the FTC???s oversight on its practices.'

    In other words, Various??? growth is largely attributed to shady practices."

    Eckelberry did *not* say that the growth was attributed to shady practices, only that it was unknown whether the growth could occur without them. That's not quite the same; it could well be true, but hasn't been proven yet.

    I've checked out AFF's sites before and don't recall ever getting sexually-explicit pop-ups (even though I have seen their affiliate ads at lots of sites). Maybe I just haven't gotten their spyware/adware, though. (I do try to keep my system fairly secure.)
    • Without a dought used shady Pratices

      Its a fact that there growth is from shady practices,porn bots in yahoo chat rooms,Aol chat rooms,MSN chat rooms,yahoo profiles,myspace spam,geocities personal web pages just a small portion of what i have seen. Since i block popup i haven't seen any of their popups and i don't download any free ad ware supported programs i don't see that.

      Ive seen adulfriendfinder affiliates violate all the above websites TOS by using there service advertising for Adultfriendfinder. So there is no dought in my mind they have used shady and illegal practices to get where they are,and that my friend is a fact!! I have spent way too much time reporting them
  • Ryan - tell us what you really think...

    Ryan - what a biased, uninformed and shamefully subjective article. Have you ever been to a Various website? They operate more than just adult community websites. THey also run Friendfinder, BigChurch and amoung others.

    As for the accusations of adware and pop-ups, Various, like many internet businesses, relies on affiliates to generate traffic for their sites. It is actually affiliates that use nefarious methods to advertise Various websites. Even sites like have affiliates that generate traffic by pop ups and adware methods. This, by no means, gets Various off the hook, but you have to understand that Various does not actively engage in abusive advertising practices.

    As for penthouse, don't you think they would do their homework before buying a company like Various? Give them some credit. Mark Bell has done an amazing job turning around a bankrupt Penthouse empire in a mere 4 years.
  • Porn companies in general are shady

    There's nothing straight about porn video operations, it's a dirty business that exploits women and men to generate cash. It is demeaning and is IMO one of the worst businesses one can work for. I have no surprise that AdultFriendFinder dabbled with malware advertising, all these porn enterprises care about is making the cash they don't care about how their actions affect others or what they have to do to make the cash. As long as the cash keeps flowing in they're happy, otherwise they'll seek out devious methods to bring back the cash flow. Nothing new here...

    - John Musbach
    John Musbach