Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Very Poor Phorm: Advertisers Should Not Be Allowed to Spy on Net Users' Browsing Habits, Writes Becky Hogge

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Very Poor Phorm: Advertisers Should Not Be Allowed to Spy on Net Users' Browsing Habits, Writes Becky Hogge

Article excerpt

Isn't online advertising marvellous? I go to the New Statesman website to look up the article I wrote on Phorm, the behavioural targeting advertising company, in March 2008. And there it is, right at the top of the page: a Google ad for Phorm. That Phorm is advertising using the company it intends to treat as its first true competitor is as ironic as the Phorm tagline, "Creating two revolutions: in online advertising and in privacy"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Well, perhaps not ironic. Phorm can claim privacy-enhancing features for its web-tracking service, but they are just that-"enhancing", not "guaranteeing". And when it comes to privacy of online communications, its technology is more degrading than enhancing.

Phorm's technology dials direct into your internet service provider's network and tracks your web surfing in order to deliver targeted ads. Picking a handful of keywords from each of the websites you visit, it attempts to build a picture of your interests, assigning you to segmented channels that serve ads it believes will cater to your tastes. Google serves up ads based on the page you are looking at now. Phorm will serve ads based on what you have looked at in the past.

The Information Commissioner has already made clear that, in order to deploy Phorm within data protection principles, ISPs must obtain users' explicit consent. What's not so clear is whether ISPs are legally able to intercept the communications, between web users and website owners, that make up browsing the web at all. …

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