back to article The Guardian ditches Phorm

The Guardian has pulled out of its targeted advertising talks with Phorm, following a public outcry over plans for the UK's three largest ISPs to report the browsing habits of their customers in exchange for a cut of revenues. The national newspaper had confirmed its involvement with Phorm in a story on 14 February. The U- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    forgive me

    for being a lil dumb, but isint the point of advertising, to show me things I dont know about? That I might be interested in.

    I already know about the stuff I am interested in and the places I prefer to purcahse those things from.

    If i know a site has Phorm then I wont be visiting it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It's good but...

    .... one small step on what is probably going to be a long hard road to eliminate Phorm (and anything like it!)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: webmasters do you know what you're signing up to?

    "Does anyone have any clue on why a webmaster would sign up to this service for his site, as if the visitor is interested in the sites content, then surely phorm will roll out a load of competitors ads, to distract the visitor. Maybe I'm just not fully tuned in with what is going on here."

    There are many sites whose sole purpose in life is to have content which will draw visitors - mainly, but not necessarily, prOn or meds. Once the site has good traffic they sign up to an ad network to display ads and they get paid per thousand page views. The webmaster does not care what the ads are, only cares that they give enough income to pay for the bandwidth with some profit left over. When you are being paid per view there is no need to supply content which will encourage a clickthrough. Many of these sites fall into the range that are excluded from displaying AdSense or affiliate banners.

    There are many different ad networks out there and most supplement their client's ads with ads offered by other ad networks - so that there is never an empty ad space once the clients have met their exposure limit. Lowest priced ads are displayed last.

    When you take into account the content of many sites displaying ad network offering, a little thing like privacy is probably not even in the vocabulary of the webmaster - they only see $$$$$.

    These are the 'scatter gun' ads that Phorm is so keen to replace, and the ad networks will be eager to include targeted ads with higher payments in their stables. This is the market where Phorm will be making their money and why they don't seem to be bothering any more about our concerns about the ISPs' wiretaps.

    Maybe Phorm isn't such a bad name after all: when you look down the list of what sites they won't profile you for and won't display ads for you can get a pretty good idea of who will be offering to display the ads - zero competition ads, guaranteed - and 100% of the sites in the target market only earning money from displaying ads.

    Advertisers know where most people surf and they too must be waiting eagerly to offer their ads to their target market for a better ROI. Who needs clicks when you are going for brand awareness.

    Just look at Pepsi's attempts to locate their market (google cache):

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Phorm's Aims

    "Does anyone have any clue on why a webmaster would sign up to this service for his site, as if the visitor is interested in the sites content, then surely phorm will roll out a load of competitors ads, to distract the visitor."

    Ultimately, this is where Phorm will go once they've got an installed base. If you're a webmaster then signing up folks to advertise on your site will be worthless as those ads will be intercepted and replaced. I reckon Phorm are looking to hurt Google in the pocket and then get bought by them.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The plugin, for those that have not got it yet, can be downloaded from"

    Whoopeefuckingdo. Every time you start up the browser it sticks a stupid pop-up box on screen telling me I've installed the plug-in. Well, duh. If I want rid of the stupid pop-up box I have to explicitly turn it off! If you're not too busy saving the world from famine, plague, pestilence and the evil that is Phorm, perhaps you could code the default option to just work without the stupid pop-up box? Another question, how do you people climb stairs with size 25 feet? Backwards?

  6. Alex
    Thumb Up

    a sensible if belated move by the Guardian

    now lets see some sense from BT, etc,

    this is parasitic marketing at its most invasive and it, and all its loop holes, need to be cut out as a matter of priority.

    good move Guardian, now lets see you report the whole story in the cold light of day?

    Parasitic Privacy Infringement?

    put simply...

    DO. NOT. WANT.

  7. Ted Frater

    Shooting yourself in the foot? Richard Branson?

    Dear Richard Branson,

    Your the head of 40 odd co's in your group.

    If you go with Phorm on then I be very surprised if you dont add it to your other 39co's.

    So If you do,

    ill dump

    when Ifly to the USA it wont be with Virgin Atlantic,

    it will be with BA,

    If I buy records it wont be with Virgin Records,

    it will be with HMV.

    Get the message?

    If your as bright as you seem,

    youll dump Phorm as it will cost you dear througout your Group of Co.s.

    Ive been with from the start, some 9? years,

    and have had excellent service.

    Dont throw it all away.

  8. Peter White

    ernst and young privacy impact report

    just been looking at the much quoted report, it is just a process/procedure confirmation report, a bit like bs5750, not really worth the paper it, it just says they have the procedures in place, but just because they have them does not mean they follow them.

  9. Peter White

    the real issue

    Kent Ertugrul no doubt still has contacts who are on the dark side of the web, the placing of the profiler and phorm servers directly in the data stream at the ISP’s data centre gives them a access to an absolute gold mine of information that all sorts of people would pay millions for. What is to stop a patch being temporarily applied to harvest the wrong information, encrypt it and send it off somewhere into cyberspace.

    That is the biggest fear most people will have, be it real or not

    let me guess, phorm have said to bt etc, we are good boys now and would never do anything like that, honest guv

  10. Julian Maynard-Smith

    Setting the record straight

    Hi, Julian from Phorm here

    There are a number of themes that stand out from all your posts - many of which we have addressed in various blogs and media interviews. We've put our responses to these questions on

    * We hold no data:

    * The system is legal:

    * Web publishers benefit from the system too: - see post entitled 'Internet Publishers Benefit Too'

  11. joe

    Can we have some intelligence on this please

    This is a quality site, yet I read too much made up nonsense in these comments.

    You don't like Phorm - I get that, but instead of making up rubbish, why don't you offer something constructive or informative?

    For example, you are naive and fickle if you think that Phorm will end as a company with the biggest ISP providers in the UK backing it. I'm sure this product will evolve to put consumers in full control as it always has.

    While we still want everything now and for free, there needs to be some way of finding revenue. I'm sure consumers will choose with their feet and this is unltimately who has the last say.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So who IS holding data (for up to six months)?

    The Phorm system holds no data and yet it is able to determine if one has visited N times in the past N2 days? Clearly, somebody is STORING DETAILED BROWSING HISTORY information. Are you shipping it off to Russia? Storing it in pig latin and pretending you can't read it? Perhaps storing a list of Channel IDs and their test conditions in one drawer, and storing the list of Channel IDs a user matches in another drawer, then trying really really hard to forget which drawers you put them in?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Setting the record straight

    Julian Maynard-Smith - You just don't get it do you?

    121 Media wrote rootkits & spyware and plagues our PC's with parasites, changes its name to Phorm , disowns its past and suddenly all is rosy in the garden. NO!!

    Look, you made your money from spyware / adware and I don't trust you. I don't care (Like many others) whatever you say. I can never believe a company with such bad 'form' (excuse the pun) can ever be trusted with any of my data. Not then, not now and never ever. Do you get it now?

    The quicker ISP's recognise these feelings the better. I will never succumb to your charms because I would never trust you as far as I could throw you. Sorry but its true.

  14. tech idiot

    Obviously, we have different definitions of straight...

    Hey Julian Maynard-Smith,

    It appears that you have the PR habit of deliberately talking at cross purposes. Perhaps this tactic works on the occasional clueless consumer but not likely here. You say -

    "We hold no data" - I couldn't care less because I challenge your assertion that you have ANY right in law to even take the merest peek at what my data might be. No data stream = No business.

    "The system is legal" - because you say so? You've tested your assertion in front of the courts right? Start saving, it's going to be very expensive.

    "Web publishers benefit from the system too" - I'm not a publisher so have no interest in this.

    Julian, looks like this little episode won't be going on the CV under "My PR triumphs" eh?! Better luck with the "Bracknell Refuse Collection Initiative Newsletter" or whatever else it is that you normally "work" on.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    re: Setting the record straight

    Hi Julian, good to hear from Phorm again.

    The problem is, the answer you give only relates to the webwise site.

    No one has yet answered the questions about the site which is not hosted in UK and, by the nature of the way things work, has access to both IP address and cookie ID.

    Nor has anyone given satisfactory answers about the data injection at the ISPs during the http requests and responses. Nor has anyone confirmed that a customer of an ISP can ensure that their data streams are not being processed in any way by the profiler.

    As Phorm has supplied both the hardware and the software which is to be used by the ISPs performing the profiling and the ISPs are not to have access to the source, don't you think that it is time for Phorm to acknowledge and begin to answer these queries?

    You complain that the tone of comments indicates that your early replies have not been considered. Your replies have been noted, so too has the omission of any response with regard to queries about the profiler, injection of the data packets and marrying of cookie ID with IP address - all matters which come under the umbrella of privacy.

    Until there are responses that answer the questions in a manor that a lay person can understand sufficiently to make an informed choice, the only chant you will hear is:


    Joke alert - because somewhere there is a dead parrot.

  16. Eponymous Cowherd

    Re:Re:Setting the Record Straight

    ***"No one has yet answered the questions about the site which is not hosted in UK and, by the nature of the way things work, has access to both IP address and cookie ID."***

    I really want an answer to this one. The act of reading Phorm's cookies gives away the IP address associated with that cookie. When you go to a site with Phorm ads they will read your Phorm cookies and be able to associate your IP address with your browsing profile.

    Perhaps Julian Maynard-Smith might like explain how you can read a cookie *without* knowing the IP address of the client.

    Gross invasion of privacy. Don't want. Will leave my ISP (BT) unless they drop Phorm.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re Setting the record straight.

    Are you one of the myriad PR people Phorm have employed or are you a techie? If you arent a phorm techie then I see no point in engaging you in further discussion as Phorms PR people are a waste of time.

  18. Hegelworm Messerchmitt

    "Web publishers benefit from the system too"

    Do they fuck.

    I'm a web-publisher/developer and this system perhaps has even more negative implications for us lot than most. I undertake a fair bit of public sector web development, and, as I'm a freelancer, I do this from home. Should Phorm and VM collude on this, all of that private governmental data and any associated communication would be wide open to interception and analysis. A dedicated SSL for every domain just isn't practical.

    And what's to say they're not opening other ports, SSL 443, FTP 21, 25 etc? Could this mean that even my lovingly crafted code runs the risk of being 'analysed' and 'profiled'? If so, the knock-on implications of this don't even bear thinking about; fending off hackers, spambots and script-kiddies is work enough without the threat of an adware overlord harvesting the bloody lot at a network level.

    I phoned the Information Commissioner yesterday and tried to force a little more information on the polite lady there without sounding too reactionary. Needless to say she knew nothing of Phorm's past and said that since a case had already been opened, all other calls and complaints are, effectively, ignored. So it leaves you wondering what value any kind of voluminous public voice really has.

    I presume we've all signed the petition here.


  19. Peter White

    would you trust del boy with the keys to a giant warehouse

    what phorm (and BT) don't get is the idea a customer has to trust the ISP and any company they partner with

    its a bit like employing del boy to be a stock controller of a giant warehouse and not expecting to see a few bits appearing on a stall at peckham market or offered for sale in the nags head

    its a trust thing, people just do not trust PHORM and also rapidly losing trust in BT, VM and TT as well now

    anyone know where i can buy some data????

  20. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    @ Peter White

    ***"its a bit like employing del boy to be a stock controller of a giant warehouse and not expecting to see a few bits appearing on a stall at peckham market or offered for sale in the nags head"***

    Nicely put.

    It is the knowledge of who Phorm are/were and who is behind the organisation that causes as much concern as what they are doing. I just don't trust them to stop profiling if I opt-out.

  21. Louis

    Time for a better ISP?

    Now would be a very good time for anyone looking to break into the ISP market, with ALL of their customers traffic mixed up and anonymised in a similar manner to TOR or JAP. That or something along the lines of all exit points are the same so it looks like all customers are only doing the one thing. Without knowing the technical aspects invilved, would that not be possible? Also not storing ANY customer data at any level...

    If that ISP existed, I'd be with it, and not because I do anything iffy (I really don't! Stop looking at me like that. I'm a gamer, I spend more time on CS;S or TF2 than I do anywhere else apart from work! I don't look at pr0n as I have a hot woman [also a geek! They DO exist!]).

    I'd also be willing to pay a little more than the average rate for it. As, I suspect, would almost everyone else. on the planet. ever.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Come-on VM

    Waiting waiting waiting...... Come on VM give me an opportunity to terminate my contract. I did not originally sign up to have my data intercepted by an organisation as tainted as Phorm. The moment one of my bytes is touched by one of Phorms black boxes I'll be off and I will be taking all my other VM services with me. By the way. You can whistle for any contract money (broken by you AFAIC) . See you in court suckers! Just when you seemed to be starting to get it right you create this mess. Fools Fools Fools!

    You are being suckered by a smooth talking rootkit creator. You deserve all you get from here on in if you continue this farce.

  23. Sam

    Data losses

    Since public concern over undeniable and unacceptable data losses by government agencies, there is absolutely no way that the public will accept the 'selling' of personal browsing information when, it's apparent, they could get it for free from the data infringements of our own government.

    I am afraid this may be a technology at the wrong time.

    Assurances aren't enough I am afraid due to the incompetent and unreliable storage of data. I may as well put my PC on the street and wait for someone to hack it. Won't be hard but probably a little less likely than a public organisation who has to take some responsibility for what they provide to us.

    I am incredulous at the thought of what damage this is likely to do. We will end up using foreign ISPs, proxy servers, adware control, blocking cookies (that will cripple the internet ease of use)..... someone, somewhere has ideas above their station until the legal and technical frameworks are in place.

    A VERY BAD IDEA, AND NOW A BAD PR. Funny how keeping secrets can ruin the implementation of a new one and those that we can trust. What happens if I have a BT phone line providing broadband services via an alternative ISP? Can they intercept that data and give Phorm what it wants.

    A lot of questions need to be satisfied before anyone will accept this.


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