back to article Phorm: Our business is fine, honest

After its share price slumped to a new low, Phorm today sought to allay investor fears about the ISP-level adware business by repeating assurances that a critical third trial with BT will go ahead. Yesterday Phorm closed at £5.80, an all time low. The announcement seems to be having the desired effect; at time of writing Phorm's …

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Coat

delayed due to technical issues

That'll be the 'telling people we are spying on your dirty little habits' techonology then ?

It's not my coat, but like Phorm I'm just searching it for profit and what I see I keep.

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Coat

Nice try Phuckers.

But this minor blip upwards won't halt the downward slide of this stock.

I wait with baited breath to see just exactly what UK Gov has to say. It could be a significant nail in this particular coffin. That's if we ever get to see it of course, though I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the document 'land' in the hands of some like El Reg in the near future.

Mine's the one with the UK Gov in the pocket.

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Stop

Seemingly BT/Virgin/TalkTalk regard Web Site creators

... as sub humans who aren't entitled to privacy, security or data integrity in their data communications.

First they came for the Web Site authors,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Web Site author...

Next P2P, next VOIP, next email, next ftp,

PHORM MUST BE STOPPED

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Linux

Fatally holed and sinking

Bye Bye :)

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untitled, unprincipled too

"She said it had not been decided whether the text of the UK's letter to Commissioner Viviane Reding's office will be made available." That's ok, I'll just read it as it passes through my servers. Nobody here has a problem with that do they? Not that your opinion matters, because I'll be doing it secretly anyway.

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Ash
Thumb Down

Three ways to combat this.

1. Set up a P/O box and tell people it's a forwarding service to the CEO's of BT, Virgin Media, and TalkTalk. Collect all the letters (after a publicity campaign on the web) and deliver them, by hand, after telling the local press what's happening, to the offices of the three companies. Something as simple as "Any company which affiliates itself with Phorm, or any other intrusive targetted advertising company, loses my business. Signed xxxxx" would do.

I would like to see 3 A4 5-ream boxes full of letters at least to each company, addressed to the respective CEO's.

2. Write to Phorm subscribers (the companies which will advertise with them) telling them that you will purposefully use software which pulls data from a list of extremely varied content websites, making the data they are sold by Phorm totally unusable. Tell them you're going to purposefully ruin the business model.

Then do it.

3. VPN Tunnel to a foreign nation with better regulations. Not ideal, but a final option if the above don't work.

Phorm needs to die.

2. VPN Tunneling to a foreign nation. It's not s

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Bronze badge

Opt-in?

I'm curious how TalkTalk intend to pitch such an system if it will indeed be opt-in, what arm twisting will they offer customers in order to allow their web surfing to be sniffled for (TalkTalk's) profit?

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Next time on The Phorm Saga (tm)

I expect that the UK gov will try to pass Phorm, and the secret trials, as legal and above board. Since some former BT execs now work in anyway, I'm surprised that BT hasnt just announced they own Phorm anyway.

The other thing that might happen is that Phorm might be given as a sacrificial lamb to the EU, and Phorms technology will somehow find a way to BT, who will then abuse it. Did I say abuse? I meant bring value to consumers.

Nothing to see here people, move along!

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Paris Hilton

This should be opt-in only

Because the only way they'll get anyone to pass their data throught this system is by not advertising it widely and slipping it in under the radar.

What sane customer would want this?

Actually I think a lot of things should be opt-in only. It's too easy to claim ignorance of opt-out arrangments, or make it such a hassle that few do it.

And like many other things, it makes me wish the general populace were more computer literate and actually cared about the dilution and abuse of their rights. Far too many these days seem to equate human rights with "being soft on criminals".

Paris, because I don't think she's the exception to the rule.

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Black Helicopters

Not normal practice

"Not normal practice.." to explain ourselves to the electorate... anyone would think this is a democracy or something.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC (first post)

That's *my* coat!

Mind you, I've nothing to hide, so go ahead.

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Thumb Down

inphorm that BERR spokeswoman that they are a Govt agency and ARE required to act on FOI requests

"A spokeswoman said that after BERR missed its deadline at the end of July, as reported here, an extension had been granted and a response would be sent this month. She said it had not been decided whether the text of the UK's letter to Commissioner Viviane Reding's office will be made available. "It's not normal practice", she said, adding that some form of public announcement will be made. ®

"perhaps someone should inphorm that BERR spokeswoman with idea's above her station apparently that she and they are a Govt agency and ARE required to act on FOI requests etc, and so it is NOT her place to decide weather or not to release this public information.

not decided to make it available, not normal practice indeed, pompus and arrogent ass indeed, do your job we pay you to do girl and STFU.

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Paris Hilton

Time to trot out the monthly "its all going ahead" PR

Already left BT - broadband, phones the lot. Long term customer (over 10 years). Why ? Because they were even thinking about implementing this. The impending trial ? yeah good luck with that - thats the day the BT range goes in my blocklist.

Paris ? because Phorm know they are screwed.

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Without opt-in, RIPA trumps PHORM

Oh yes it does. And then there's the EU version too.

PHORM - the dead horse that Kent loves to keep flogging.

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Stop

BT haemorrhaging business?

I can't speak for other businesses, but specifically because of Phorm/WebWise, I've directed the company that I head (a set-top box and thin client manufacturer) to dump BT's broadband for a supplier who has given solid assurances they will never implement such technologies.

Oh, and the supplier (GCICom) is tripling our data rate, for about £4 more per month than BT. The switch-over happens today, if all goes well.

With friends like BT is nurturing, who needs enemies? Well, apparently BT does - it's certainly making enemies of its (former) customers.

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Coat

opt-in?

i suppose the opt-in choice will be cheaper than the regular price? rather like the "choice" of using oyster tracking system for public transport, or to buy a regular paper ticket for rip off prices? hmmm

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Stop

Pressure to be maintained..

Unfortunately, the mag "WebUser" carries an artice on Phorm.

I say unfortunately, as it casts a 'rose tinted' view (IMHO) of what exactly the Phorm tech will (or more importantly COULD) deliver.

The line "examines a surfer's complete browsing history, cataloguing which sites they visit and how often, and detailing how long they spend on a site and which links they click on. From this information, ISP's can build a profile of each unique user, without discovering their identity."

Whilst this is true, the article fails to illuminate the next (logical) step, wherein the ISP, or Government Agency, equipped with this data, and the ISP's subscriber/IP database, wouldn't take too long to associate browsing habits with IDENTITIES.

This, I believe, is the nub of the whole argument.

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What a coincidence

I was only thinking last night that it had gone all quiet on the Phorm front.

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Tom

@David

"I'm curious how TalkTalk intend to pitch such an system if it will indeed be opt-in, what arm twisting will they offer customers in order to allow their web surfing to be sniffled for (TalkTalk's) profit?"

The product is called webwise, and it plays upon the naivety of punters by offering them a questionalbe anti-phishing filter as bait. This is the trade off that they are offering in exchange for their data pimping.

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Real Opt-in

I'm glad to hear that BT is considering a real opt-in mechanism, where customers who don't want to take part have their data physically segregated from Phorm's snooping equipment. This is opposed to Phorm's idea of an opt-in which is to snoop your traffic anyway and then decide whether to serve targeted or non targeted adds.

However, its not surprising that BT are finding providing segregation on a per customer basis to be difficult even in a small trial, and probably costly enough if rolled out across the board, to negate any income from Phorm. So there are two ways it could go, either they drop Phorm, or drop segregation making any opt-in choice entirely worthless.

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how difficult is it

to do secure browsing if this comes in. I'm not sure of the details of https but can it be used to create an encrypted session both ways, so that phorm can't see anything passing between the browser and the webserver?

Obviously it would need website support and couldnlt be used for everything, but it would be a start

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Unhappy

After this article...

...was published, I rang VM (once again) and mentioned I would leave if they went ahead with the phormish DPI - the girl I spoke to said "sorry you feel that way, but if we want to use this system we will"; she basically told me to bugger off and go to skycrap.

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Coat

Phatality!

Sorry, I had to.

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Unhappy

Oh for Phuck sake

For years I have raved out how Virgin Media (Telewest has been the best ISP I have ever used)

How every month they come up with something new to screw us over with. Peak time evening data caps, then daytime non-peak data caps, then handing all our data to the record industries and now they are going to be spying on my Phorn browsing.

I'm so angry for being loyal to Telewest/VM for so long :(

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Pirate

10,000 users?

Where do they expect to find 10,000 users who will willing sign up for this? The only people to do so will be the ones the advertisers aren't interested in getting. My grandmother for example, who uses the internet for email, the BBC website, and weather reports. Go go Phorm sell her browsing history, fat lot of use it will be to advertisers.....heh....

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Silver badge
Coat

Opt-out cookie? big FAIL

Where do you get the opt-out cookie? do you have to go down to your local BT ISP where you'll find it on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard' ?

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Coat

Opt-In for Sites Too...

As an individual running several web sites I'd be interested joining (or helping to form) a group of webmasters who believe that Phorm should be working with, and, potentially, paying revenue to, them and their sites. Or allowing them to opt out of this scheme.

You could argue that in the same way that a user's browsing habits should, by default be private, you can claim the same for a web site. Its traffic data should, by default, be private unless and until it chooses to release data. I don't publish detailed log analysis as it would allow my rivals to see which areas of the site are most popular and therefore adopt a strategy to improve their own site that could result in me losing users to them. In fact I'd say that would be a nice line of business for Phorm: "tell you what, how much would you pay to know which of your competitors are doing a better job of a specific feature of your web site".

My traffic data is worth money to me - it helps me form marketing strategies for recruiting new users, as well as pitching to potential advertisers on the site, and of course don't forget Adwords.

If Phorm is profiling a proportion of my UK traffic and making money on the back of that, then why not? No site = no traffic to profile = no income from same. I concede that the value of my web sites is probably, by itself, fairly small. But then the vast majority of sites out there are also small with small numbers of users. It's the quantity of data that is important - the more data these guys get, the more valuable it is. If 50% of all the small sites were to opt out of Phorm, Phorm would not be able to mine the data for minority trends as accurately.

If web sites were able to opt out of profiling as well (and why not) then Phorm's ability to make money is damaged. So, by definition, the inclusion of my sites in Phorm profiling has an intrinsic value to these guys.

Pay up whenever you are ready, guys!

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Anonymous Coward

Damaging the brand

I would say decimating.

BT also has a lot of web shops running their software, can you trust any of those shops? Your buying habits are possibly being recorded and phoned home to BT, if they are it is a bit fresh of them.

And that's for people not on their network. A lot of government and military stuff will use BT, it is the preferred contractor in the UK. And BT have allied themselves with what looks like ex Russian KGB and spy ware producers.

The whole BT brand is in jeapordy, I wouldn't trust anything they have had a hand in. BT is set to for a huge drop, unless they get their act together on many fronts.

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Trials without permission or even asking ...

just how valueable is any promise made to anyone, about this ISP's efforts to keep information private and confidential, in the past, present and future?

Trust has always be essential to relationships between customers and the government/private sector, it's even more the case in the information economy. Every example of this disregard for data privacy undermines the trust needed to prosper in the information age.

There is no excuse for an organisation making money from preaching about security best practices to keep information private, etc to then not be transparent about it's own activities.

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Go

Waiting for MP's response

I'm still waiting to hear from my MP in response to a letter I wrote (via writetothem.com) regarding the lack of response from UK.gov to EC, and which also challenged the previous response I had got from him (and BERR), which was just a rehash of the now-familiar Phorm press release.

I'm beginning to see that not many people in government actually understand exactly what Phorm are attempting here (adware in the datacentre, where it can't be turned off by a computer user's anti-virus or anti-spyware program) and are happy to believe the Phorm "everything will be fine" press releases.

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Paris Hilton

Yep this is a DEAD business model - Nice warm glow at the crap stock price :)

Got to say I had a a good laugh at the drop in the stock price yesterday :)

BT == Selling your privacy one IP address at a time.

ISP Spyware, Just Say No!

... still laughing at all the mercenary bastards who took a beating on the stock price yesterday :D

Paris because even she knows that the betrayal of trust like this means the death of any business.

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An opt-out cookie

...with a 20-foot long serial number to identify you. That'll work.

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RE: how difficult is it

> to do secure browsing if this comes in. I'm not sure of the details of https

> but can it be used to create an encrypted session both ways, so that

> phorm can't see anything passing between the browser and the

> webserver?

You still have DNS packets and IP packet routing data to deal with, HTTPS only deals with layer 7 and you'd need to masquerade everything from layer 2 upwards...

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Well, the bit about the shareprice increasing was concerning...

...particularly when I looked at this page:

http://finance.google.com/finance?q=LON:PHRM

Then I zoomed out. Oh, how I laughed. LAUGHED!

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Stop

Spycoms

It shame what is happing in USA with NebuAd doesn't happen with Phorm. Also it a sin UK Parliament do not make noise like they are in USA.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/03/AR2008090303566.html

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Anonymous Coward

I can't help thinking

it would be so easy to screw up anything they do. Think about it.

As I understand it, the cookie is all that identifies you. Any other system is going to tie your identity to the results.

So, set up a storage space on the internet and distribute a script which would upload your cookie and download another at random. Have it do that every so often, and if enough people do it, then any results are completely screwed. The system is then no use to the advertisers as it is just random data.

Even just deleting the cookie at the end of each session will be enough to screw the system, as a new identity would have to be created each time.

Or am I missing something?

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RE: I can't help thinking

The information on the cookie will most likely have your IP address and possibly your computer's name. Need I say more?

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Coat

Where's that K*nt gone?

He's "travelling abroad and is unavailable for interviews" yeah right, especially those being conducted by the City of London Police over the illegal 2006/7 BT Trials.

You know BT are going to fit you up over this don't you Kent?

Maybe a name change is in order right now - you've worn out yours with its links to so much spyware/adware/malware/rootkits/lies/bad business practises - you name it, you've tried it...

Right now your body must be absolutely covered in bruises where people have been touching you with a ten foot bargepole!

Mine's the one with the "Don't take me for a K*nt Kent" badge on the lapel

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Anonymous Coward

Die Phorm Die

This is one technology that should shrivel and die. My business and all who sail on her will migrate from any ISP who traffics with phorm or its like and the same goes for my home connection, tv, phone etc. You listening Virgin!?!

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Hehehe...

Our BT, who art in heaven

hallowed be thy Name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily adverts.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive Phorm

who trespass against us.

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Anonymous Coward

Schoolboys

BT must be biting their collective fingernails at the moment, like nervous schoolboys contemplating detonating their chemistry lesson explosives in the toilet; they know there'll be a very loud noise, but they're not sure whether the inevitable negative consequences will be worth the brief moment of self-congratulation. In this case, the shit storm might be a bit bigger than even they bargained for.

In any case, Phorm knew they'd lost a long time ago; Kent let the cat out of the bag when he used the phrase "legitimate business" on the BBC. If you have to say that about your great idea, they only way left is down.

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Anonymous Coward

I take anything Phorm Claims with a pinch of salt

As Phorm may have the mindset of a spyware company as they allegedly were when known as 121Media, they may be adept at writing text that claims to enhance your life while the opposite occurs..

As far as I can see they have written nothing that they could not have written six months ago. i.e.. Nothing has changed that benefits Phorm. On the other hand lots have things have changed which do not benefit Phorm and some of these changes are still in motion.

IMHO investors are fickle and because of that I expect there is still money to be lost there.

On a personal note.

VM, isn't it about time you grasped reality and realised Phorm is a no goer in terms of profit? There are thousands of Phorm aware customers waiting to leave all your services if Phorm / Webwise ever touched the VM network. Be wise - remove all connections now and you may reap some benefit from this. (At the expense of BT)

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Tom

My theory..

BT would have distanced themselves from this long ago, if they were able. I suspect they are stuck with contractual obligations which they can't get out of.

And that piece of slime K*nt entrails would I suspect, be more than happy to take them to the cleaners for breach of contract if BT decided to drop Phorm. They are perhaps stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not that I have any sympathy for them, bastards.

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Anonymous Coward

The Solution

There is a way to solve this. Create as much publicity as possible on those companies that are planning to use Phorm, and recommend the public take their business to other competitors. I'm sure the competitors will actively promote they're not using Phorm.

When it starts to hit the telco's profits and it's no longer making them money but actually losing money they'll have to reconsider.

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Anonymous Coward

@Opt-In for Sites Too...

>

As an individual running several web sites I'd be interested joining (or helping to form) a group of webmasters who believe that Phorm should be working with, and, potentially, paying revenue to, them and their sites.

>

Scripts are already in place to allow webmasters to track visits from phormed ISPs and charge a licence fee for each ISP customer who visits and is profiled and data sold on to Phorm/OIX. It is also just as easy to take historic logs and extract this data for revenue generation.

Phorm have alwasy claimed that their aim is to help the small webmaster make revenue from allowing their system. The only flaw being that their business model only considers paying advertising partners and not providing payments to those sites who help with the generation of the profiles. However, it is the ISPs who are providing this information so the licence fee charge needs to be made to the ISP and not to the Phorm/OIX.

Unfortunately, Phrom/OIX are paying only a very small percentage of overall revenue to ISPs so the little left to webmasters is going to become pennies. Perhaps the need to pay licence fees will result in ISPs receiving a larger payment - or the website portion will be paid from gross revenues before any payment to partner sites or other advertising networks.

The music industry has a whole industry planned around paying royalties for use of copyrighted content, so the theory for the whole system is already in place and an accepted industry method for claiming payments for commercial and non-commercial use of content.

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Anonymous Coward

is it a problem

If there are legal mechanisms in the UK which forbid you from tampering with or monitoring data or decrypting data on an encrypted connection? Bound to prompt plenty of complaints about unsanctioned wire tapping?

-Have to ask my MP where they stand.

I'll be considering this and similar systems as a key point in the ISP I choose in my new house.

I'll be waiting with baited breath because this system is so against what the internet wants that it's bound to get overwhelmed by people trying to hack/DDOS/circumvent.

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copy & paste

"I am hereby explicitly withholding permission, from Phorm, the right to copy, in whole or in part, any of the data on this site for any purpose including user profiling. If I discover that any of the data on this site has been copied, by Phorm, in any way or for any purpose (including merely holding the data long enough to read the opt-out cookie), I may have to seek legal recourse."

If you run a website, It's your copyright for you to impose any restrictions you like *shrugs*

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@Chris Cheale

Nice reposte... You'll be able to identify *my* web sites as they'll include something very similar in the not too distant future in the terms of use (and anywhere else I can get the text in)

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Anonymous Coward

@ Luke Wells

I've had an extensive correspondence with Neil Berkett's office and they seem hell bent on implementing Phorm despite the adverse coverage here, on CableForum and elsewhere. So I dumped Virgin Media for Be. It's cheaper and I should have done it a long time ago.

UK.gov's explanation/whitewash job will be interesting. I'll bet it doesn't answer the points raised by Alex Hanff and Richard Clayton. See K*nt fail to answer the criticisms levelled at Phorm by Alex and Richard in video footage at http://tobymeres.net/

The organisers, 80-20 Thinking said they would video the proceedings and post them online. That was in April. My slightly less professional (but unedited) videos went up the day after the meeting. The professional footage is still to emerge.

Anyone know the status of the case resulting from the extensive papers presented to the Met Police?

Mind you, given that coppers are prone to leaving guns in the karzi at Starbucks who know what could have happened to those papers?

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Anonymous Coward

Virgin say not yet maybe sometime

I spoke on the phone to a VM rep Andrew who phoned me regarding questions about PHORM I had emailed to VM. The gist of our conversation was this.

Virgin are not trialling phorm .

It is in Andrews words more a case of " if not when".

Customers would be informed and it is "many months away" before a decision is made.

I voiced my opinion that it would be VM who would be left holding the bag and their reputation would suffer if this went wrong. "Yes mud sticks" was the reply.

The FT must be getting their information from somewhere else. The planet Zog maybe? This conversation took place on the 5th Sept

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