New Phorm trial begins

BT has restarted its Phorm trial despite huge privacy concerns.

The Phorm system allows BT to track and monitor every website that a user visits. BT puts this information into a database and is then able to insert its own advertising onto web pages that is targeted specific to those users. The system has caused an outrage amongst privacy advocates and the City of London police recently cleared BT of any wrongdoing in its secret trials.

The latest experiment which was delayed due to privacy concerns will affect up to 10,000 users over a 4 week period.

The WebWise system that Phorm has built could have access to details of every website that customers visit, as well as every internet search they conduct and other personal information.

It's rumored that Phorm is in talks with other UK broadband ISPs, including Virgin Media and TalkTalk.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Microsoft, Washington State Sue Scareware Vendors

Next Story

Microsoft charged for evading tax in India

11 Comments

I'd be interested to hear from any BT customers that are part of this trial to see how much they have been told about it. Were you given the option to opt out? Were you offered any incentives to opt in?

After listening to Steve Gibson and Leo LaPorte on their Security Now podcast, I though this had been put to bed a few months back. I guess not.

I don't know if I'm part of this trial. I'll bet that I might be and they just haven't told me about it.

Grauniad
Promotional material on BT's website describes Webwise as a fraud prevention service, which uses its ability to track the web pages you visit to warn you if you are visiting a dubious or fake website.

Errm, doesn't pretty much every modern browser do that already? And then there's the times I want to go to a site I know is "dubious". The fox tells me immediately so I don't want or need a service I didn't ask for to poke its nose in and wag its finger disapprovingly.

OK, someone needs to explain something to me here.... Essentially they find out through your browsing habits that you like "Product X". Do they then replace advertisements on other websites for said product? What if the advertisements don't match up in size, are they simply going to start blocking content to make sure their new ad is seen?

My biggest concern here is loss of revenue. If you were to pay for your "Product Z" to be advertised on a particular site and it happens to compete with "Product X", would Phorm replace it anyways? You paid for that spot legally under a contract I would imagine. Would you not be entitled to sue under some type of loss of revenue or anti-competitive laws for them essentially going around and removing your advertisements?

In a perfect world these questions wouldn't be needed. But then again, you wouldn't need to legally defend yourself and run secret trials on the public either.

I don't believe that the 10,000 or so victims... errr I mean test subjects.... sorry, I mean customers are being informed that they are part of the trial. This means that they have no ability to opt out unless they write to BT and complain.

When the service goes live then my understanding is that 'opted in' will be the default position and that BT customers (of which I am currently one) will be given the option to opt out.

As for how the ads might be delivered, I suspect that web sites would sell 'phorm space' on their pages into which these targeted ads would be delivered. I don't think the phorm ads would 'replace' or 'overwrite' other paid for ads from other agencies. That said, there are other ways for phorm to inject it's adverts into a users surfing experience, and given their fairly aggressive methods I wouldn't be at all surprised if this sort of thing happens.

BT has always been a completely mediocre ISP, and this may just give me the kick up the arse I need to go find a better deal with someone else like Zen or Be.

(andy2004 said @ #7.1)
Ready to leave BT? Call 0800 800 030 / 0800 328 6738, get your MAC code

That looks like O2's number. Problem with them is they charge you £5 a month for a static IP - easy money for ticking a box on a setup screen

(needlegun said @ #7.2)
That looks like O2's number. Problem with them is they charge you £5 a month for a static IP - easy money for ticking a box on a setup screen ;)

That charge has nothing to do with the setup - it has to do with the use of the IP. If you get a static IP address, that's one less address that the ISP has available to rotate through its customers, hence more IPs they need to acquire in order to serve all their customers.

(needlegun said @ #6.2)

That looks like O2's number. Problem with them is they charge you £5 a month for a static IP - easy money for ticking a box on a setup screen ;)

Sign up with bethere.co.uk then. It's owned by O2 (so if O2 is available where you are, so is be), but it's great value (£18/month for 24Mbit), is genuinely UNLIMITED (as in download 500Gb+ a month if you want, if not more) and static IP is free. It's the best ISP I've ever used.

Commenting is disabled on this article.