BT presses on with public Phorm trial

BT has confirmed it will press ahead with testing ...

BT has confirmed it will press ahead with testing Phorm, a controversial online advertisement serving application

The news came as the government outlined rules regarding Phorm's legality and moral acceptability.

BT said it hoped the test, the first public trial after two secret ones, would begin soon.

The telecoms company said its use of Phorm's software, which profiles individuals according to their online searches and serves advertisements based on their interests, would comply with the law and with moral and ethical standards.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) yesterday disclosed part of a letter to the European Commission which had earlier asked for clarification of the legality of Phorm's use.

A BERR spokeswoman said the usage it described was "not a code of conduct". "It's a way to use the system transparently and responsibly," she said.

BERR told the EU, "The UK authorities are working to ensure that if [Phorm] is introduced into the market for internet-based advertising services, this is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent fashion."

It said Phorm's products were "capable" of doing this if users knew that their searches would be stored and profiled, gave their explicit consent, knew how to opt out and could do so at any time.

The letter to the Commission added that a user profile should have a random identity, that Phorm did not keep a record of sites visited or search terms used, and that advertising categories and other information could not be used to track back to users.

Phorm said in a statement, "The UK's government's position on Phorm's technology reflects our common commitment to transparency and superior standards of online privacy."

The software supplier said it had practised "privacy by design. Our internet advertising and online fraud protection system stores no personally identifiable information or browsing histories."

BERR said Phorm developments would be closely scrutinised and monitored by enforcement authorities, including the Information Commissioner's Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and BERR itself.


BERR's view on how to make Phorm conform

• User profiling is done only with the knowledge and agreement of the customer

• The profile is based on a randomly allocated unique ID, so there is no need to know the identity of the individual users

• Phorm does not keep a record of sites visited

• Search terms entered by the user and the advertising categories exclude sensitive terms and are widely drawn so as not to reveal the identity of the user

• Phorm neither has nor wants information that would let it link a user ID and profile to a living individual

• Users are presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise a choice about whether to be involved

• Users are able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme.


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