Need to Know: Phorm

Phorm is struggling to keep ISPs on side in the UK - but what's all the fuss about?

Why did that anger privacy campaigners?

Privacy campaigners were predominately concerned with the deep packet inspection the idea that Phorm could see everything that users do on the internet was seen as a clear privacy invasion.

Sir Tim Berners Lee said it was like having a TV camera in your living room, while an Open Rights Group activist compared it to industrial espionage.

Another debate centred on the opt in versus opt out issue. The system only works if a very large number of people are using it. At first, Phorm said people could opt out via their ISP. After complaints, it changed its tune, saying people would be presented with a page that let them choose - let Phorm see your traffic or don't. Campaigners were still unhappy with that option, saying the question page would have to be very clearly written and explain everything at stake to be any use.

Phorm claimed it protected privacy by keeping everything anonymous. The Information Commissioner's Office said Phorm was fine, so long as users could opt out, but the EU did take action against the UK over secret trials run by BT.

So what now?

It looks unlikely that Phorm will be rolled out at all in the UK. BT has said it has "no plans" to implement it anytime soon, though it is still technically in talks with the company. Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk which just bought Tiscali has cut its contract with Phorm.

The only other ISP to consider Phorm is Virgin Media; it still has an agreement with the firm, but has never even trialled the system and reportedly told customers that it had no intention of using Webwise.

Those three ISPs cover so much of the UK market that it's unlikely Phorm could make a good, profitable go of things here without winning them back.

Phorm does have an active trial in South Korea, however, and yesterday claimed it had two other trials going internationally, so Webwise could still go global.

And, more importantly, even if Phorm disappears, the debate over behavioural advertising and privacy on the internet continues...

Click here for more on the short history of Phorm in the UK.

Want to read more background on the latest IT topics? Click here for all the tech cheatsheets in our Need to Know series.

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