Monday, December 15, 2008

Your Web Privacy At Risk? Will You Be Phormed?

British Telecom has been testing an interesting product from a company called Phorm . Phorm is not a household name yet but it could rapidly become one. Here's a piece from Phorm's Wikipedia entry:

Phorm, formerly known as 121Media, is a digital technology company based in London, New York, and Moscow. The company drew attention when it announced it was in talks with several United KingdomISPs to deliver targeted advertising based on user browsing habits by using deep packet inspection. It is one of several companies developing behavioral targeting advertising systems, seeking deals with ISPs to enable them to analyse customers' websurfing habits in order to deliver targeted advertising
to them.

Phorm claims the product in trial, called Webwise, is designed to make the internet safer and more relevant to internet users. Webwise is offered free of charge to participating ISP partner customers and includes relevant advertising features and enhanced protection against online fraud. Webwise works by giving users a unique identification. User browser habits are observed and then ads are targeted based on user browsing habits. The company says that all collected information is completely anonymous and Phorm (along with anyone else) will never be aware of any users identity or what that individual users has browsed.

Will British Telecom move forward now that the trial is complete? Here's a quote from a ZDNet piece:

"The trial has now concluded and achieved its primary objective of testing all the elements necessary for a larger deployment, including the serving of small volumes of targeting advertising," said the company in a statement on Monday. "There will now be a period of joint analysis of the results. Following successful completion of analysis of both the trial results and of any changes required for expansion, BT's expectation is to move towards deployment."

Some in Europe are fighting - anti-Phorm campaigner Alexander Hanff is quoted in theZDNet piece:

"There's still pressure from the [European Commission] and the public that may mean BT doesn't deploy the system," said Hanff, who added that the Crown Prosecution Service is still considering whether to launch a prosecution against BT over two previous trials.

I pay for Internet access in my home and do not believe anyone should have access to my surfing habits except those I give it to. This stuff scares me.

For updates watch Hanff's blog linked here.

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