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Phorm, the company whose web tracking technology sparked international controversy, had a bad Monday as BT got wise and decided to drop its use of Phorm's Webwise product.

Phorm's loss, however, is a major victory for consumers.

Had BT implemented Webwise extensively, it would have arguably represented one of the most egregious violations of consumer privacy ever.

With Webwise in place, the browsing behavior of millions of BT internet users would have been tracked for the purpose of serving up targeted ads to them. Because Webwise works at the ISP level, this form of tracking is about as invasive as it gets.

That would have potentially provided a compelling proposition for Phorm, advertisers and BT but a very bad one for consumers. After all, most consumers pay for internet access; being sold out to Phorm isn't what BT's paying customers expect when they make payment to BT every month.

Unfortunately, BT customers aren't in the clear yet. In announcing that it wasn't moving forward with Phorm, BT left the door open:

We continue to believe the interest-based advertising category offers major benefits for consumers and publishers alike.

However, given our public commitment to developing next-generation broadband and television services in the UK we have decided to weigh up the balance of resources devoted to other opportunities.

Given these resource commitments, we don't have immediate plans to deploy Webwise today. However the interest based advertising market is extremely dynamic and we intend to monitor Phorm's progress with other ISPs and with Webwise Discover before finalising our plans.

Phorm, which is listed on the AIM, saw its shares plummet on the news. As The Guardian notes, however, Phorm has other ISPs in play and the company is far from dead. That means that regardless of what happens with BT, privacy advocates likely still have many Phorm-related battles ahead.

Photo credit: rpongsaj via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 July, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)


Glenn Hall

Basic issue is we are uneducated about smarts. Microsoft has deployed smarts (from Firefly) for years, and has not really built much out of it yet. Lets focus on the advantages of having smart technologies help us navigate the digital worlds we engage with. Lets welcome the new frontier. Say hello to an alien, you might find they are rather nice. 

Smarts, we need them, we need them soon. so, can we shift focus to what they can do for us, the people and for those who wish to sell to us.And to enable deeper, more thoughtful, more equally enabled interactions.

Should we have an SOA* view of all interactions, as digital citizens? I say yes. We'd have governance, authentication and be able to set our own rules of what we want and how to find out.

(*Services Oriented Architecture, a way to build big IT systems)

So if we could announce ourselves, /beyond profile/ then would we know how to describe ourselves? Maybe not. So we say no. First. Thats a shame. Perhaps limiting.

Thank you Phorm for pushing the envelope. Thank you BT for making the issue public, and (eventually) saying whats going on.

And, now, please, can we all learn, about smart technologies that can help, and just stop thinking its all about sales.

iPhone suceeded, not least because Apple educated us WHY we wanted it.

More to learn, please debate this widely, in a learning frame of mind.


over 7 years ago



@Glenn Hall If you want a smart system like that I would not have any objections, but DO NOT try to do it on a "UNICAST" protocol system such as Port 80 http; that sort of system is reserved for Personal to Website interactions. Develop your own protocols & match them on other ports for a "multicast, broadcast protocol" system! Subverting a very Basic & essential communication system & altering/manipulating the data transfers is not only a bad idea it is illegal for very good practical as well as Privacy reasons!

over 7 years ago

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