We Need Confidence in our ISPs

Over the last few weeks there’s been a lot of controversy about Phorm, a new behaviour-based advertising service that matches advertisements to customer web habits. It’s reportedly being trialled by several UK ISPs including BT, Virgin and Talk Talk. My fellow blogger Stuart King commented on this service a few weeks ago.

Phorm seems to operate very close to the boundaries of what might be deemed illegal according to UK legislation. And today the BBC Web site reports a claim by Nicholas Bohm, of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, that BT tests carried out during 2006 and 2007 without the new knowledge of users were “an illegal intercept of users’ data”.

Regardless of the technicalities of whether or not this was illegal, it’s a disturbing development. ISPs are in a unique, privileged position to read the data of customers. They should aim to maintain the highest degree of trust with citizens. If we lose confidence in ISPs, it’s a major setback for our hopes of building a trustworthy information society.