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UK government responds on Phorm
Tuesday 16 September 2008 18:11:01 by Andrew Ferguson

The Register is claiming an exclusive on the latest developments in the life of the targeted advertising system that is Phorm.

It seems the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) is refusing to release a full copy of the letter from the UK government to the European Commission in respone to enquires about Phorm. The response itself should originally have been provided at the end of July 2008, but was in the end provided some 6 weeks late. The part of the letter that has been released is reproduced below:

The UK is committed to providing a high level of consumer protection. We take our community obligations very seriously especially in the area of data protection and e-privacy. The possible future use of Phorm technology has raised material concerns in this area and the UK authorities are working to ensure that if it is introduced into the market for internet based advertising services, this is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent fashion.

After conducting its enquiries with Phorm the UK authorities consider that Phorm's products are capable of being operated in this fashion on the following basis:

  • The user profiling occurs with the knowledge and agreement of the customer.
  • The profile is based on a unique ID allocated at random which means that there is no need to know the identity of the individual users.
  • Phorm does not keep a record of the actual sites visited.
  • Search terms used by the user and the advertising categories exclude certain sensitive terms and have been widely drawn so as not to reveal the identity of the user.
  • Phorm does not have nor want information which would enable it to link a user ID and profile to a living individual.
  • Users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise a choice about whether to be involved.
  • Users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme.

Future developments involving Phorm will be closely scrutinised and monitored by the enforcement authorities.

BERR Phorm Statement

Whether the full letter to the European Commission covered the questions over the previous trials is not known. Future deployments of Phorm be they in trial or full product should meet the requirements set out above, and given the interest from Viviane Reding and European Commission any deployment that fails to meet the targets is likely to be dealt with harshly. What action will result from the secret trials previously carried out is still unknown.


Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
what does the government think about phorm illegaly changing ads on copyrighted sites they dont own?
Posted by ollyv over 8 years ago
The gov RIPA bill means ISPs have to acheive your internet usage.

ISP want it because then they dont have to pay in fact they get a kick-back from the ads and if goes bad well that smaller company Phorm - puff they disappear.

Phorm is just that much better because it wont just archeive it, it will profile u for the gov as well!

This is Orwellian no question. If i saw the postman reading my mail I would think it was ok because we dont know each other i.e. Im anonymous to him!!!

I'm anonymous until the point you learn 'who I am' or 'who I am like'.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
"what does the government think about phorm illegaly changing ads on copyrighted sites they dont own?"

Phorm is only meant to serve ads on sites that are signed up to the Phorm agency.
Posted by canarycity over 8 years ago
There is no way I would agree to allow this on my Internet
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
andrew then why have people reported phorm changing the ads on their own sites without consent? I believe phorm displays ads from people who are signed up, and then place these ads on any sites people visit that have other ads already in place? if no then the trial malfunctioned.
Posted by carrot63 over 8 years ago
A couple of ISPs in the States have been caught injecting ads into sites passed on to their customers. One- Rogers I think - have been quite brazen and unrepentant. While Phorm did this (test replacement on google ads they'd paid for) during the illegal trials, they are not offering this as a service. However I don't doubt that in the interests of 'growth', they will pull this in the future on smaller sites unlikely to sue.
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