UK Says Phorm Clickstream Tracking Is Okay… If Clearly Explained To Customers

from the we'll-see-what-customers-say dept

With US-based clickstream tracking company NebuAd on the rocks, similar UK competitor Phorm has actually received approval from the UK government, despite concerns over legality. Apparently, the UK has decided that as long as Phorm clearly states what’s happening, allows easy opt-outs (even if users change their minds later), then it’s fine. What’s not clear, though, is how the government will treat Phorm’s early tests, which did not include clear notification or easy opt-outs. In the meantime, if such programs really are clearly communicated to users, do you think enough people would opt-in to make it worthwhile?

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Companies: phorm

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Comments on “UK Says Phorm Clickstream Tracking Is Okay… If Clearly Explained To Customers”

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Jake says:

Re: Re: I doubt it...

The first one that springs to mind is, “It just might make browser ads actually do something besides get in the bloody way.” I have to say I’m broadly in agreement with my government on this one; provided it’s being done in a transparent and accountable way, seeking the explicit and informed consent of all participants, it’s not really that much more sinister than Amazon making recommendations based on your previous purchases.
I should still like to see some sanctions imposed on Phorm and their clients for trialling it without telling anyone, though.

Danny (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have no opinion about the UK govt (as I am writing from the US), but do have opinion about Phorm.

I agree with the gov’t ruling that as long as Phorm is upfront and clear about what they are doing, this business model should be considered legal. I wrote as such in a TechDirt comment a month or two back.

But to Mike’s question up top as to whether enough people will opt-in…

I am not sure; perhaps not. I might choose to sign up, but only if I perceived the value I got back from them tracking me to be sufficient enough. Phorm has not yet made their case to me. Google, on the other hand, I have tremendous leeway to.

But, as Mike as pointed out many times, it is not the role of the government legislate business models. I see this UK decision not as a victory for Phorm but as a victory for the separation of business model and state.

MadJo (profile) says:

Governments + tech == disaster

Clearly the UK government doesn’t understand the ramnifications of this decision. Especially privacy wise. This ad-company will get to know everything from the ISP-user (where they live (google earth/maps-search, their shopping habits)). It’s bad enough that the ISP has access to that kind of information, but now an ad-agency too?

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Mixed Feelings

I have mixed feelings about anyone intercepting my web surfing and substituting ads.

But… if they let me pick and choose what kinds of ads will show up (i.e., I click a check box and no more animated Flash ads that move around my screen show up) then I might not be totally opposed.

If I can choose from a list of products and services, say “show me ads for upcoming sci-fi movies, new TV shows, Chinese restaurants in my area, pizza ads featuring coupons, etc.”) and only those ads show up, then I would actually like the service.

They could even make it work like Tivo where I can give ads a Thumbs Up (show me more ads like this) or a Thumbs Down (don’t show me ads like this) – if they could tailor it to my wants and needs as well as Tivo does, then I would buy stock in the company.

Just Me says:

Opt-in or opt-out?

My biggest concern with a “service” like this is the wording of the companies opt-in or opt-out setup.
If they are within the law making a deal with your ISP that all customers get “opted-in” when they sign up with the ISP (buried in the fine print) then all of a sudden you ARE opted in and most people will never even know it or know to opt-out.

If, on the other hand, they have to have a specific “This is to opt-in for our Services and here is what we do…” sort of check box then that I can live with.

I kind of like #7’s idea as well. I don’t typically bother blocking ads on the whole but if I could yea/nay approval per add then that would help me see only ads I want and help them see what adds people like/don’t like. Maybe if enough people Nay/Thumbs Down those annoying animated ads marketers will get a clue and STOP making them…but I think that might be giving them too much credit.

Kent Begum says:

This article could have come jointly from the we’ll-see-what-the-European-Commission-says dept. It would be like the USA deciding on net neutrality and then allowing one state to go off and do whatever they wanted to with their little bit of the Internet. If a UK ISP is allowed to intercept the communications between one of their customers and, say, someone in Germany, they’ll be intercepting the communications of the Brit and of the German. Whether the UK government likes it or not, it has to fit in with the rest of the EU.

There is concern that the ISPs wouldn’t clearly communicate the implications of Phorm’s product to their customers. They’ll claim ‘better’ adverts and that your computer will be infected with malware or you’ll lose all your money to phishing, if you don’t sign up. All the negatives are likely to be downplayed and buried in a ‘privacy policy’, and I think we know Mike’s views on those.

Kent Begum says:

Re: Trial starts 30 September

The Register reports that BT’s third interception trial is to begin tomorrow. As I commented previously, I had little expectation that BT would properly explain the Webwise system to their broadband users. The latest example of the interstitial warning page is little different from the one sent to the ICO in March of this year.

BT Webwise is still to be sold as an anti-phishing system. The first, much more detailed point made on the invitation page is:

Provides extra protection from suspected fraudulent websites designed to steal your personal details through “phishing” (e.g., fraudsters impersonating bank websites) by warning you if you are about to visit one of those websites.

The second, smaller point only hints at the main purpose of Webwise:

Makes the ads you see more relevant to you by anonymously matching them to your interests.

There is no indication that the majority of your web browsing is to be intercepted and used to build up a record of your behaviour. Based on that single, short sentence, it might be assumed that Webwise is no worse than the context-based advertising provided by companies such as Google.

BT are using the marketing of scare tactics. The anti-phishing protection is, of course, completely separate from the behavioural targeting. BT could have offered their users this protection without requiring them to consent to being profiled. While some free email providers use your emails to target advertising, the vast majority of email providers manage to filter spam without the need to build up a long-lasting commercial profile on you.

LDøBë says:


I can’t think of anything more disgusting on a personal level than what Phorm does. It’s more than just an invasion of privacy. Sure, anybody can look into your house through the windows, but of course, you can look right back at them. Anyone could dig through your trash, and you could fill it with battery acid if you so chose to. Anyone can tap your phone line directly, but again, they can also rot in jail for it. I guess I’m just good old fashioned outraged at the mind boggling abuse of an ISP’s access to the user.

Btw, can you avoid getting tracked by phorm like services using the TOR network? It’d be a drag, but I’d switch to only browsing through TOR if it meant that my data was absolutely secure.

David says:


UK police are looking in to the case of BT having trialled Phorm without telling their customers.
Whether anything will actually come of it is debatable. I certainly would not do business with any ISP that had this “facility”, opt-out or not! I fail to see why ANYBODY would want to opt-in, anyway. The privacy angle is horrendous, from what I have read elsewhere.

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