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British protests show privacy matters

118 800, Phorm and Google have all been at the receiving end of British anger over privacy intrusions.

It recently announced a trial of a new simplified privacy system, in fact. Lesson learned, then?

Phorm

Phorm has been hit by privacy concerns and campaigners since it launched its deep packet inspection advertising system in the UK a few years ago.

The secret BT trials probably weren't going to cause smiles and joy amongst customers, but the telco and Phorm clearly didn't expect Britons to mind their network traffic being scanned. Seems like they did.

Phorm would say the privacy concerns were blown out of proportion by activists, and even BT said privacy wasn't its concern but costs when it ditched the service a few weeks back.

Open Rights Group's Jim Killock said at the time: "This is the right decision for BT and other online providers who respect privacy."

Indeed, the controversy surrounding Phorm is impossible to ignore, and other ISPs like Virgin Media have had to reassure customers they'll ask first before deploying.

There are other behavioural advertising firms out there, and if Phorm's experience is anything to go by, they best keep privacy in mind or they'll make some enemies pretty darn quick.

The government

The current government seems to consider privacy as something that's a trade for other things, like security or social services.

Want to keep safe from terrorism? We'll need to track all your emails and phone calls. Oh and you'll need an identity card too.

Want access to benefits? We'll need you to fill out this form don't worry, it's just for a massive database that lots of people will have access to.

With the government's track record on data security, it's hard to buy any promises that said data won't be put on disks and go missing.

But personal privacy and the right to not be stored on a database is fast becoming a hot political issue. The Conservatives have promised to scrap the ID card system, while Labour was forced to scale back plans to monitor web and phone traffic after public outrage not to mention industry players pointing out the futility and expense of it all.

If ID cards, privacy and data security do actually become a serious election subject, the government could quickly see just how seriously Britons take such issues.

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