Phorm (also known as Webwise) has declared that it is finally set to launch its service in the UK with BT’s ISP service. Phorm is a service that allocates web users a unique number, it then monitors websites that the user has visited and looks for recurring keywords related to its advertisers. It then associates those keywords with the user’s number, so that when the user visits a site containing a web advert, it will display relevant commercials. For a more detailed explanation, read Richard Clayton’s excellent report.
As a founding supporter of ORG, I do not like Phorm. I understand their claims of anonymity and security, but I am still not convinced that this level of surveillance is either useful or necessary. Phorm seems to add an unwanted layer of interception to the internet, and I am not sure that users will like to have such records made of their browsing habits. Phorm claims that it destroys those records, but I am still uneasy. Who is to say that in this difficult financial climate, they won’t change their data retention practices to sell more information about web users?
Something that is perhaps unsurprising, yet still disappointing, is that Phorm seems intent in misrepresenting and hiding what it does to the public. There was a public outcry when they conducted a series of test runs with unsuspecting BT customers. BT is also intent in claiming that Phorm’s main function is to “increase protection against online fraud”. They also seem to brush all consumer concerns under the rug. They claim:
“That being said, what we did not take into account was the fact there would be a very small number of very determined people who would do their very best to make it appear in the worst popular light. I am surprised by the fact, after it has been repeatedly explained how the technology works, they seem to be very keen on misunderstanding what it does.”
No, thanks to people like Richard Clayton, we do understand how it works quite well, and we are still very concerned about it. As a BT customer I won’t be opting in of the system, as the Information Commissioner has declared that Phorm can only operate with the consent of the user.
If you don’t like Phorm, join the Facebook campaign. Phew, I managed to reach the end of the post without any clever “eph” replacement, ephing well done. Doh!