Bad Phorm

OK so I've pinched the name from someone, but I'm pretty sure they won't mind!

Bad Phorm - what is it? Or rather what is Phorm?

You won't like this - you couldn't make it up!

It's actually a cunning little wheeze dreamt up by some company calling themselves PHORM, where they get your full browsing history (where you browse on the internet), in really time (as you browse), and target advertisements at you based upon your browsing habits.

Why? Why are they interested in where you browse?

Because they can sell that information to other people.

Who gains from it?

Well, they do of course - why else would they bother?

Who else? Well, your internet service provider will get a nice little kick-back, because THEY sell the information to Phorm!

I must point out here that NOT ALL ISPs are planning on doing this - so far only Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk have signed up (BT have already trialled the system without telling their customers).

So let's see if I've got this right. You pay good money to the ISP of your choice, they provide a service, then some of them flog your personal information to Phorm thereby making a little extra from your account! Nice! :-)

How does it work? As I understand it (and correct me if I'm wrong), when you browse the internet, your web search is passed to Phorm. They intercept your web page request (your PC has to ask for the page you're looking for), and they replace it with their modified page containing adverts appropriate to your browsing habits.

Point 1: I object most strongly to the notion of my ISP getting extra money from the service they provide me over and above what I pay them. I buy a service (an internet connection), I don't expect them to flog my data to a third party.

Point 2: When I browse the internet, I expect to go straight to the web page of my choice - not to be redirected to someone elses bastardised version of it. I'm not too sure how the owner of that web page feels about this redirection!

Point 3: I don't wany my kids to be bombarded with advertisements based upon MY browsing habits when they are on-line! And I don't just mean when they use my PC. Our arrangement in Woolsey Mansions is that all PCs are connected to the outside world by a gateway - a little box which connects to the phone line and gives each PC its own internal IP address. All that Phorm will see is the external IP address of our Gateway - it won't know if that gateway is being used by me to research - well whatever! - or by little Johnny (made up name!) to research the habits of Teletubbies etc! Do you see where I'm going? One familly members browsing habits may not be suitable viewing for another family member.

Anyway, ramblings over, go to the BadPhorm site (a site set up to publicise the (mal)practise of Phorm) for more information.

If your ISP is signed up with Phorm, move (or at least complain!). At the very least I would expect a substantial discount on my connection fee to reflect the extra revenue my connection can make for them!

Personally I will be watching this with interest. If OneTel sign up to Phorm, they will loose my custom immediately. If Yahoo sign up, they will loose my custom too.

Here's another good link, well written, which you might like to read. Basically the author is saying Phorm is of dubious legality, and could easily end up the very thin edge of the wedge. I have to say I agree wholeheartedly!

And here's another good link if you are as interested and concerned as me!

Postscript

I emailed my ISP (OneTel) about this subject, as they are now part of TalkTalk.

I had a telephone call from a very nice young lady who reassured me that, despite Onetel and TalkTalk being joined, they are in fact trading as separate companies, and Onetel have not signed up with Phorm.

Onetel will therefore retain my custom and I will not accept TalkTalk's offer of cheaper Broadband, nor will I even consider returning to BT.

Thankyou Onetel

OK, so the saga continues…………

I had a thought the other day - as all Broadband is provided by BT, and they simply sell access to other suppliers (apart from cable companies!), what about my Onetel connection which actually goes through a BT exchange at some point?

Here's the email I sent to BT:

I am not a BT customer, but my Broadband connection MUST go through a BT exchange.

As I find Webwise and Phorm to be totally abhorrent and an unwanted intrusion on privacy, and the complete antithesis of BTs and Phorms claims of enhanced security, can you reassure me that any implementation of this repellant technology will not impact or affect my web browsing in any way whatsoever?

I have already contacted my ISP with my concerns, and they assure me they have no intention of implementing Webwise, but my concern lies with the telephone connection which goes through our local BT exchange.

Webwise, as I understand it, needs to check a cookie on my PC to 'see' if I am opted in or opted out. I will not tolerate a third party checking anything on my PC without my knowledge or consent.

The response from BT follows - I'll give them credit for an extremely fast response!

Dear Mr Woolsey,

Thank you for your email dated October 15th regarding BT Webwise. I am very sorry for any confusion that has been caused to you over this service. I called you today, sorry I missed you.

BT Webwise is currently on trial with selected BT customers only. The trial does not in anyway affect non BT customers. The cookie opt-in system at the minute is only for the use of the trial and again only for the use of BT customers. I can assure you that this current trial will not affect your broadband service in anyway.

Once again I am very sorry for any confusion that has been caused to you by this trial and if I can help you with anything else please reply to me at this email address.

Thank you for contacting BT.

Yours sincerely,

So there you have it - the next BT trial is already underway but will in no way affect non-BT customers.

What I find interesting is BT call this spyware a 'service', and they say "The cookie opt-in system at the minute is only for the use of the trial and again only for the use of BT customers".

What about AFTER the trial if/when Webwise becomes generally used for ALL BT customers?

Hmmm! I await to see what happens with interest, but one thing I'm certain of - if Webwise becomes the norm in Britain we will need to take action to stop it before Orwells vision of 1984 becomes all too real!

Another update: Check the press and news sites online for the UK Home Office interest in Webwise - now why would they be taking an interest?

Another update: Likewise, check out the US FBI taking an interest in Webwise. Tell me that's a coincidence!
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