p2pnet news | Advertising:- So-called targeted advertising system Phorm is in the news again.
UK digital rights group the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) recently came out officially against the Phorm surfer tracking system, and an anti-Phorm group called BadPhorm has gone online, p2pnet posted.
Moreover, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the World Wide Web, criticised Phorm saying his data and web history belong to him.
“It’s mine,” he declared, “you can’t have it. If you want to use it for something, then you have to negotiate with me. I have to agree, I have to understand what I’m getting in return.”
“Phorm claims that its system does not allow the retention of individual profiles of sites visited and adverts presented, and that it holds no personally identifiable information on web users,” says computing’s Data Watch, going on >>>
Last week it emerged that BT had trialled Phorm’s technology in 2007 without informing customers.
BT claimed that the trial was legal because individual users’ information remained anonymous – but privacy campaigners said it was a breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000, which makes it an offence to intercept internet traffic without consent or a warrant.
Now it’s to be openly put to the test by Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office which says it’ll monitor an upcoming BT trial.
Says the IOC in a statement >>>
“The ICO has received a number of queries concerning the recent announcement by Phorm that 3 major UK Internet Service Providers have agreed to allow them to use technology, developed by Phorm, to present adverts to their customers based on the nature of the websites they visit.
“Understandably, this has provoked considerable public concern. We have had detailed discussions with Phorm. They assure us that their system does not allow the retention of individual profiles of sites visited and adverts presented, and that they hold no personally identifiable information on web users. Indeed, Phorm assert that their system has been designed specifically to allow the appropriate targeting of adverts whilst rigorously protecting the privacy of web users. They clearly recognise the need to address the concerns raised by a number of individuals and organisations including the Open Rights Group. We welcome the efforts they are making to engage with sceptical technical experts and believe that it is only by allowing their technology to be subject to detailed scrutiny by independent technical experts that they will be able to prove their assertions regarding privacy. The ICO strongly supports the use of technology in ways which enhance rather than intrude upon privacy, and plans to produce a report on “Privacy by Design” later this year.
“We understand that the technology is not yet in use and that BT intends to run a trial involving around 10,000 broadband users later this month. We have spoken to BT about this trial and they have made clear that unless customers positively opt in to the trial their web browsing will not be monitored in order to deliver adverts. BT has also stated that the system does not store personally identifiable information, URLs, IP addresses or retain browsing histories and that search information is deleted almost immediately, and is not retrievable.
“We will continue to maintain close contact with Phorm and BT throughout the trial. Clearly the trial should reveal whether this is a service that web users want, whether it is privacy friendly and that users are comfortable with the privacy safeguards put in place by Phorm.”
The FIPR said in an open letter >>>
Many users will also be identifiable from the content of the data scanned, since it will include email sent or retrieved by users of web-based email, and messages viewable by those authorised to gain access to individual pages of social networking sites.
Although some web-based email systems operate using ‘https:’ end-to-end encryption, which would prevent interception, this is far from ubiquitous. It might be possible for Phorm to configure the service to exclude a handful of the more high-profile web-mail and social networking systems. But there are no available methods of detecting the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of other, low usage, often semi-private systems which currently provide web-mail or social networking in chat rooms or similar environments.
Classification by scanning in this way seems to us to be highly intrusive. We think that it should not be undertaken without explicit consent from users who have been given particularly clear information about what is liable to be scanned. Users should have to opt in to such a system, not merely be given an opportunity to opt out. We believe this is also required under European data protection law; failure to establish a clear and transparent ‘opt-in’ system is likely to render the entire process illegal and open to challenge in UK and European courts.
It would be specially objectionable if opting out were to depend on the maintenance by the user of a cookie, since many reasonable users regularly clear all cookies; nor should users be expected to opt out by blocking one or more websites, since many may not understand how to do this or may make errors in trying to do so.
Meanwhile, “a battle over the Wikipedia article on Phorm began on Friday, with suspicious forum posters at Badphorm charging interference by self-interested parties,” states The Register, continuing >>>
Widespread criticisms of Phorm were censored in a revision to the entry and more “on message” PR-type statements were inserted.
Wikipedians quickly moved to revert the changes to the article. You can compare the different versions here. The apparently Phorm-friendly edits included removing BT’s admission that it misled customers and the media over its second secret Phorm trial, conducted in summer 2007.
A quote from The Guardian’s advertising manager Simon Kilby where he explained the paper’s decision to withdraw from negotiations to join Phorm’s advertising network on ethical grounds was also censored from a BT IP address. It read: “Our decision was in no small part down to the conversations we had internally about how this product sits with the values of our company.”
The Phorm-friendly edits have been traced to an IP address range assigned to BT, although this does not imply its direct involvement.
BT denied the Badphorm posters’ allegations today. A spokesman said: “It’s nothing to do with BT PR. We haven’t been involved with amending any Wikipedia entry on Phorm.”
In a comment post to the p2pnet story quoting Berners-Lee, “In response to Tim’s comments and the raft of commentary that has followed, we also believe that it is wrong to store Internet users’ personal data. Our technology is a real turning point in the protection of privacy online – it does not store personally identifiable information, does not store IP addresss and nor does it store browsing histories,” said Phorm.
“By contrast, ad targeting from other major Internet companies means that potentially identifiable personal data is stored for over 12 months before it is even anonymised.
“Also, because these companies reach nearly all UK Internet users, consumers effectively have no real choice about being targeted in this way. With the Phorm technology, users can choose – they can opt out We look forward to speaking to Tim Berners Lee to explain how our technology is a ground breaking advance in delivering targeted ads while protecting privacy online and consumer choice, as we have with other experts.”
A petition on the official Downing Street website declares, “We petition the Prime Minister to investigate the Phorm technology and if found to breach UK or European privacy laws then ban all ISP’s from adopting it’s use.
“Additionally the privacy laws should be reviewed to cover any future technologies such as Phorm.
“The UK’s three largest ISP’s, Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk are all in talks with a view to introducing the Phorm technology. This would result in the browsing habits of the majority of the UK population being sold to a third party for advertising purposes.
“The opt out system for this technology is vague and unproven, even when opting out your every move on the Internet might be recorded. Surely this must be a breach of privacy laws, if not then the privacy laws need to be changed to cover such invasive technology.”
The petition had collected 10,443 signatures bt 6:50 am Pacific.
Jon Newton – p2pnet
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