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Bad Phorm

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A discussion of Phorm on cam.misc today pointed me to this posting by Richard Clayton. If you're a BT Internet or VirginMedia user you should read it too. In it Richard, who works at the Computer Lab at Cambridge University, explains how Phorm will work if it's enabled by BT Internet, VirginMedia and the other ISPs who have expressed an interest.

Essentially what Phorm does is monitor your browsing habits and then use those to feed you targeted adverts on sites who have chosen to carry Phorm enabled adverts.

So suppose you browse a series of web sites which are golf related and then go to another site, entirely unrelated to golf, but which carries Phorm enabled adverts. The adverts which will be served to you might then be for golf clubs.

Now you could argue that there's nothing wrong with that - after all if you're going to see adverts why not ones you're likely to be interested in? But suppose you share your PC with your children and after they've gone to bed you like to surf for porn, what sort of adverts are they likely to see next day? ...

Even if this scenario doesn't affect you then you still have to ask: do you really want a company with which you have no commercial relationship, whose servers are outside the UK so aren't regulated by the Information Commissioner and the Data Protection Act, recording your browsing history?

I suspect a lot of people won't. I know I won't.

Phorm claim people can opt out. So that solves that problem right?

Well no.

If you read Richard's analysis he explains that in order for Phorm to spot you are opted out they have to see your page request first. So your ISP will still let Phorm see what you're up to even if you're opted out.

Several ISPs have stated they will not sign up with Phorm so if your ISP decides to sign up to Phorm you might want to think about moving on.

Tags: internet, VirginMedia Written 05/08/08

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