Phorm; good or bad form?

March 17, 2008

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has come out as against the planned Phorm advert and tracking network today (more here from the BBC).

It was announced a couple of weeks ago that leading ISP’s were planning to use Phorm as a platform to serve up targeted adverts to ISP registrants. It’s been touted as a great way to provide more relevant ads to users and all the initial talk seemed like PR spin designed to mask any potential privacy issues.

Now at last the privacy issues are getting a good airing!

Personally I’m against my ISP using the data of my surfing habits for advertising purposes. I use my ISP for access to the internet, I do not expect them to share my data on surfing habits with anyone (unless asked to by the authorities…).

Other blogs are asking what the fuss is about this and comparing Phorm to behavioral targeting technologies in use on retail websites. I disagree with this completely as this is going to collect data at the ISP level and share it with any websites which serve adverts through Phorm, this makes it far more pervasive.

An interesting question has to be asked though; how does this differ to Google / Doubleclick? If Google starts to share behavioral search data with Doubleclicks ad serving platform isn’t that going to be similarly invasive to users privacy? Potentially; although at least we expect that from Google as an ad revenue based business…

Interestingly, the BBC has just published a story that states that the Foundation for Information Policy Research has claimed that Phorm could well be illegal. They believe Phorm contravenes the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which protects users from unlawful interception of information.

This has the potential to get very interesting and could open up other networks and ad serving technologies to scrutiny.

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One Response to “Phorm; good or bad form?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    BT has just launched a trial of a spyware/adware “service” called Webwise on its broadband system. If you are invited to take part, just say “No Thanks”.

    During 2006 and 2007 BT ran secret trials of a spyware system called Webwise, developed by a spyware/adware company called Phorm.

    BT has just launched the latest public trial of Webwise, which intercepts and records all of your web surfing activity.

    If you are invited to take part, just say “No Thanks”.

    For an example of the invitation screen see here:
    http://www2.bt.com/static/i/btretail/webwise/bt-webwise-trial.html

    For more information about the spyware/adware company called Phorm and the BT Webwise “service”, see here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/sep/30/phorm.new

    If you agree to use the service then all of your web browsing activity will be stored, profiled and used to deliver “better” advertising…!


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