Profiling the audience for television shows has gone on for years with advertisers keen to get air time for their adverts when their market audience is watching. The internet changed all that and very often advertisers know very little about who is seeing the adverts. Phorm the people behind a new advertising agency are aiming to change this by tracking the types of websites people visit and presenting what its advertisers feel are more relevant adverts.
The Register is just one site that has news on the launch of the Open Internet Exchange (OIX) deal with BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse. The OIX works by tracking peoples browising habits and then attempting to serve more relevant advertising content to people, for example you will probably be offered adverts about gardening products if you spend all your time looking around gardening websites.
From reading the discussions people are having on this new system there is one issue that does need clearing up and that is on which sites will these targeted adverts appear? We have spoken to BT who have confirmed that the adverts will not appear on third party websites, but only those that are a member of the Open Internet Exchange service.
The privacy issues revolve around areas like how opting out of the service will work. The current opt-out plan appears to require people to accept a cookie that is stored on their computer which Phorm will see and know not to track the websites visited. Many of those concerned about privacy will not want to accept a cookie like this. Use of a cookie means all devices with web access will need to be opted out, and if the cookie does go missing their browsing would be tracked until they opted out once again. This is different to most opt out type services where unless you explicitly opt back in you will never receive the material again.
There is a small incentive for people to remain opted into the service and this is a phishing warning system known as Webwise that comes as part of the advertising system. The FAQ that details how Webwise works also gives answers to some common questions about the advert tracking system. Phishing protection is built into a number of anti-virus and Internet security packages as well as some browser tool bar add-ins, so it could be said this feature is more a by product than the main reason for letting people track where you go online.
The FAQ tells us that information such as numbers, email addresses, web site URLs and other potential personal information are discarded and just the type of site is stored in the system. Secure websites using HTTPS are ignored by the system.
Trust is something that is built up over time. Enough people have seen reassurances before that turn out to misplaced. If this system has problems it is sure to get lots of attention.