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The UK government has until the end of August to respond to a letter from the European Union about a controversial system which monitors web traffic.
EU commissioner Viviane Reding has asked the UK government to clarify whether the Phorm system is in breach of European data laws.
Phorm tracks users' web habits in order to better target ads at them and three UK ISPs are so far signed up to it.
BT is due to begin a widescale trial of the service imminently.
Phorm Tracking Is Drawing Criticism [webmasterworld.com]
Digital rights group say Phorm advertising system is illegal in the UK [webmasterworld.com]
British Telecom Ad Replacement Trial Brings Calls For Prosecution [webmasterworld.com]
ISPs to insert their own ads into websites [webmasterworld.com]
whether the Phorm system is in breach of European data laws
This should be two questions:
"Whether the 2006 and 2007 trials of the Phorm system was in breach of European data laws"
"Whether any future trials of the Phorm system will be in breach of European data laws"
For the first question I will undoubtedly say yes. Unfortunately neither the home office, the police, the ICO, or any government department wish to see action taken for breaches of some if not all of PECR, DPA, RIPA Computer Misuse, etc.
For the second question the forcing of the system to be opt-in only will make it legal from an ISP customers point of view but not for webmasters.
The legality of using website content in order to generate advertising information for your competitors is not something website owners will take lightly and I envisage a lot of copyright infringement notices being issued.
Google uses keywords from your site to drive customers to your site.
Phorm uses keywords from your site to drive customers to your competitors.
[edited by: Frank_Rizzo at 3:20 pm (utc) on Aug. 6, 2008]
In the ad serving phase, when your computer requests an ad from the OIX (because a website has included our tag in their page), the browser sends the random number and the categories are used to deliver the targeted ad, not the details of your browsing, or anything about you or your computer.
Is there any evidence that they have been hijacking ads, or is it all speculation at this point?
Webwise is a feature offered by leading UK ISPs in the UK that helps protect customers from fraudulent websites and replaces generic online ads with ads that are relevant to customers' interests. Webwise is powered by Phorm technology. [X]
The OIX can potentially serve ads to any of the websites your subscriber normally visits in the regular places the website shows ads. The OIX does not show pop-ups or pop-unders. [X]
The latest versions of IE and FF already do that, as does third party firewalls, AVs and internet suites.
OIX is the problem for webmasers.
Say you sell digital cameras and your site has many reviews. A visitor reads your pages, reads the reviews etc.
If that visitor then starts reading a site which is supplied by an OIX partner (FT.COM, Universal McCann, iVillage etc) then those sites will start displaying ads for digital cameras.
The ground work for displaying those ads was done by your site. The end recipient of any clicks of those ads will be your competitor.
You buttered up the customer. Your competitor clinches the sale.
I don't want ads served in this way. I want ads served the traditional way. Site and contextual-based ads are acceptable to me.
It's marketing getting too clever for its own good, imho.
Questions about how the government has dealt with complaints about an ad-serving firm that monitors web traffic are being asked ahead of an EU enquiry.
In the House of Lords Lib Dem peer Baroness Miller has asked a series of questions about the nature of talks between the government and Phorm.
Critics have asked why the Home Office has not intervened over secret Phorm trials BT conducted in 2006 and 2007.