Bad Phorm

The prospect of behavorial-based advertising is something we should all be concerned about and something we should all be strongly voicing an objection to. Phorm, the company offering such a service as part of their Webwise product, have engaged with BT, Virgin, and Talk Talk for trials of the servcie.

Read about it here.

Personal security and privacy of data are not the only issues here.

The BT spokesman said Phorm offered consumers two benefits.

“Customers will receive more relevant advertising and will get warnings if any of the websites they visits are known to be phishing sites.”

I’d like to meet a BT customer who wants more relevant advertising. I’d prefer BT to be blocking all advertising – I damn well pay them enough for use of the copper wire across which the content I actually do want has to crawl like treacle. The last thing I need is for my precious bandwidth to be inundated with advertising. Even more so for my children – what targeted advertising will appear on the screen when they’re on line?

Phorm have apparently gone to great lengths to ensure the legality of their “service” having spoken at great length to the Home Office to make sure that its scheme doesn’t break RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act). However, surely once you have in place a system that’s capable of intercepting traffic for any purpose other than routing between the ISP and the end-user, then in my mind you’re also opening up that same system to the risk of abuse.

There’s some good commentary on the issues on this blog here.

While Phorm and the ISPs signing up say users will be able to opt out, but they don’t say whether everyone will be opted out or in automatically by default, I strongly suspect everyone will be opted in as a matter of course, here’s why. If you were to ask the users to opt in with this form advertising, I’m pretty sure just about everyone would say no thank you! Which for me answers the question to whether this is a good idea or not, in fact I’ve seen one Virgin forum ( poll that stated 95% of users would want to opt out. I’ve also heard that if Phorm don’t have millions of users signing up, the whole system would not be viable, so we can be pretty sure everyone will be signed up by default.

More good words here:

The thing that puzzles me most about Phorm is their description of the Webwise system, which presents it primarily as an anti-fraud technology. This leaves an impression that its real purpose is somewhat hidden. I suppose this is because nobody really like adverts, especially not the ones intruding with the content of the page we wanted to see.