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
    Coat

    Excellent

    Lets hope we see more share price nose dives.

    I am going to write to the FT to ask about their position in light of this...

    The opposition is wounded..

    ATTTTAACCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!

    Mine's the coat with wire mesh and a broadsword attached to it.

  2. Stephen Baines

    Values restored

    It always seemed to me bizarre that The Guardian of all newspapers would partner with something so alien to the values of the Scott Trust.

  3. Spleen

    All aboard the failtrain

    Phorm share price is just below £20 again - but given that their sole product is falling apart and they have absolutely nothing else, that's £20 overvalued. I'm not an investment banker and not qualified to set target share prices, but even I can understand that no product = no profit = no business value beyond the value of their tangible assets, i.e. the PCs, swivel chairs and desks in their office (and as they rent a pretend office they probably don't even have those).

    Phorm: time to buy a burger van, then at least you'll have a backup business line to fall back on, one which is actually quite profitable. And you'll be able to write 'First LSE-listed burger van' on your business cards. Everyone else: happy shorting.

  4. dervheid
    Thumb Up

    Hopefully...

    This will be the beginning of the end for Phorm.

    May it come swiftly, but painfully.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Great news.

    This is great news and very welcome but lets not lose sight of the big picture. Yes its important that we stop Phorm here in the UK but unless we land a killer blow to their plans in the US then they will be back here further down the line with a new name and slightly altered system.

    Kill them in the US, which is by far their biggest potential market, and we can hopefully drive them out of business. Get the word out. Email any american friends/colleagues you have. Warn them that Phorm are in negotiations with AT&T, Comcast & Verizon.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How low can you go?

    Watching Phorm's share price slump is the ethical bloodsport of choice.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge
    Joke

    This could just be a smokescreen.

    I mean, if something was pushing irrelevant misinphormation into the Grauniad's web feed, how would you tell?

  8. Richard

    The UK liberal's newspaper of choice?

    Maybe, but what about the Indie? Or are they the UK's libertarian newspaper of choice?

  9. pAnoNymous
    Happy

    So who are the advertisers?

    Maybe we should be emailing the companies that actually plan to advertise through Phorm to ask them why they want to spy on our web activities.

    Good to see the Guardian taking this stance. Hopefully they'll do a bit less "balance" in future articles and instead outline the cold hard facts.

  10. James
    Happy

    Translation...

    "Guardian Newspapers has reiterated to us its goal of participating in the OIX. They have told us that, from an immediate resource perspective, and prior to the full deployment of the OIX, they are simply focused on more urgent projects."

    Translation:

    "Guardian Newspapers will do advertising. But they're not going to waste money on Phorm."

    Why can't they just say that instead of Luvvy "marketing-speak". What does "immediate resource perspective" mean"? Surely spouting rubbish like this should be an "immediate loss of job situation" offence!

    But what does OIX mean? Shorthand for OIKS I guess:

    "If you refer to someone as an oik, you think that they behave in a rude or unacceptable way, especially in a way that you believe to be typical of a low social class. (BRIT) "

    Sums up Phorm I guess.

  11. Matt White

    So is there a safe list of ISPs?

    For those who are with ISPs who are talking about signing up with this kind of thing. I use Vispa, and they aren't going with it.

  12. The Other Steve
    Happy

    RE : Great news

    "Kill them in the US,"

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/business/media/20adco.html

    Some US legislators are already trying to make sure that services such as Phorm's require an explicit opt-in.

    Explicit opt in kills their value proposition stone dead, since almost no one would bother, and for Phorm's network based spyware to generate profit for the ISPs they need a large chunk of the user base to be participating.

  13. captain kangaroo
    Dead Vulture

    It won't stop it....

    Phorm know that telco's/ISPs are suffering as much as anyone. The cables for sure have enormous debts, and so I think they can count on VM's support whatever happens.

    Active use and configuration of AdBlock (FireFox Add-on) is the best defense. Apart from writing to the MD's of you ISP.

    (Seriously, don't write to the call center or contact manager, your message WILL end up as the paper equivalent of Concord and hurtle straight toward De Din airport)..

    I do hope Phorm a slow and painful death. There is too much of this profiling going on. Adam Curtis calls it the Big Lump Theory, were our habits are recorded and used to offer us stuff that is apparently relevant to us. The only end is profit for someone and less diversity in our own lives if we're daft enough to stop searching for our own truth and just accept that we must consume in predicatable patterns.

  14. Slaine
    Thumb Up

    investment opportunity

    ... now we're crashed their stock, why don't we all club together and buy Phorm - we could turn it into something infinitely more useful like an uploads page for ElReg icons.

  15. HeavyLight
    Thumb Up

    News International not interested?

    I always thought that The Gruaniad was an unlikely Phorm partner.

    But I'm amazed that the dirty digger's organs haven't seized the 'opportunity'...

    The next Phorm opt-out, I suspect (and hope), will be Virgin Media who's silence has become laughable.

  16. Man Outraged
    Happy

    @Stephen Baines

    You have to feel some sympathy, their ad team was probably bowled over by a glossy presentation and it takes a bit of a leap to arrive at how invasive such a system may or may not be. I spoke relatively early to a Guardian journalist who told me pretty much the same as the BBC, but much more politely and with a little more concern: that from the information released it seemed the system protected privacy, etc etc, but they were following the story with interest. They were as good as their word, and gave good coverage in print.

    Compare this to the BBC, who pretty much told me that Register journalists weren't proper journalists and the BBC couldn't go publicising emotional crusades. They then pretty much printed a press release from Phorm. Shame I don't have a screen grab of the first copy to go up about Phorm on the BBC... But to the BBCs credit they too did follow up with the 80/20 report and Sir TBL.

    So I say The Guardian deserve nothing but credit for spotting the potential ethical problems and getting out so soon, whilst the opposition is still relatively small.

    10/10

  17. thomas k.
    Thumb Up

    'mercun view

    As both a 'mercun and daily reader of El Reg (and the Guardian), I have been following this story with interest. It's been jolly good fun to see the firestorm raining down on Phorm and the subsequent tanking of their stock; let's hope the Guardian's decision to withdraw their support may be one of the final nails in Phorm's coffin.

    I shall be contacting Verizon, my ISP, to let them know my feelings on this matter but knowing what clueless sheep the majority of my fellow 'mercuns are, 'twould be nice to see Phorm annihilated before it can spread it's infection across the pond.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    A Good start for the Grauniad...

    ...now perhaps instead of 'more relevant advertising' it could concentrate on 'more relevant journalism'!

    Privacy issues aside I do find Adblock and/or Safariblock give me web advertising best targeted at my needs, ie none.

  19. Thomas
    Thumb Down

    Best News Yet!

    Thank you to The Guardian! It is the best news yet in this outrageous plot. Now, let us hear the same kind of news from BT. It's about time BT caught itself on and did something for once that it's customers actually want - NO DEAL WITH PHORM. If BT go ahead with this deal, how can it be trusted to provide anything, including a phone service? This deal is simply a back door to nowhere good for the customers - I WILL NOT TOLERATE PHORM ON MY SYSTEM.

    Thomas Norrell

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    ISP List & Blockers

    Ad blockers may prevent YOU from seeing ads, but it wont prevent Phorm from seeing YOUR data. As I understand it, Unless an ISP has stated that non participating customers will have their data routed through different equipment, the system trawls all of the click traffic from that ISP.

    There is a list growing of "Phorm free" ISPs over at

    http://www.badphorm.co.uk/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewforum.php?11

    I now await the arrival of the Phorm PR monkeys who seem to descend on any adverse comment posted anywhere, if this is so benign and experience enhancing, why are they going to such lengths to counter critisism?

    Paris because she may well be able to do what Id like to tell Phorms management to do

  21. 3x2

    One Down

    I imagine a lot of other companies are now looking at distancing themselves from Phorm. Just a shame the ISP's haven't. I am still not clear what the plans of my ISP (VM) are. As things stand it will cost me a couple of months of VM subscription (not just BB) just to move ISP's so I'm holding off until they make a statement.

    It's way past time that the ISP's realised that this has gone beyond "targeted advertising". It is a total breakdown of any trust people may have had in their supplier. The light has been switched on and they have been found with a hand in the cookie jar.

    What Phorm and the ISP's promise means nothing. Had the light had not been switched on they were willing to quietly wire-tap their own customers and worse pass it off as "Webwise - your safer internet experience".

    It cannot have escaped the entire industry that, if "Webwise" goes ahead unchallenged they are one step from the holy grail of IP to Postal address mapping. Do you now trust your ISP not to take that last step?

    What needs to happen once Phorm have gone to the wall is an overhaul of

    the law relating to this area. You can bet that Phorm will not be the last company to approach the ISP's with another quick money scheme. Next time it needs to be illegal full stop.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Adblock Plus Style banning of OXI participants

    Why not create an adblock plus style boycott of all sites using Phorms OIX advertising, if word of this got out, it may help more companies to realise how much the public hate Phorm, and thus ditch their dirty advertising scheme, slamming yet another nail into the coffin.

    Now would be a great time for Google to step up with incentives to advertise with them :D

    We do also need a list of ISPs planning to use (or even talking to) Phorm, not just here in the UK, but as another poster said, in the US too. They can be boycotted too.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    El Reg given the credit for starting the backlash

    http://understrictembargo.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/isps-beware-the-phorm-storm/

    I do wish people would focus more on the ISPs than Phorm though, they are the ones abusing our data, Phorm are merely trying to sell them the tools to do it with.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Yay! But....

    The Guardian are saying they don't want Phorm "at this time".

    So call me cynical, but maybe the Guardian are going to lie low over this for a while and then quietly introduce it when all the fuss has died down.

  25. Matthew Revell

    @Richard

    Think you need to read up on what libertarianism is, if you reckon the statist "Independent" would appeal to a libertarian.

  26. The Other Steve

    @AC

    "I do wish people would focus more on the ISPs than Phorm though, they are the ones abusing our data"

    Totally agree. I expect scummy behaviour from an outfit with Phorm's track record. What I _didn't_ expect was for my ISP to overlook same and crawl into bed with them.

  27. Dr Stephen Jones

    Is there a libertarian newspaper?

    @Richard "Independent - Or are they the UK's libertarian newspaper of choice?"

    The Indie was a contender until it discovered "Global Warming".

    Probably only the Telegraph is libertarian now. All the others are more interested in bullying us to change our behaviour.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC re Focus On ISPs

    I agree with you up to a point. Its pretty shameful that the ISPs seem quite content to sit back and let Phorm take the flak for them but I think its important we start to target both.

    One of the reasons I havent been more vociferious in my denouncing Virgin Media (my ISP) is because so far they are sat on the fence. Time is running out though. If they dont wake up to common sense and kick Phorm into touch then my criticisms of them will mount.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good news, but the day is young

    It isn't only the potential for such systems to snoop your traffic when you are opted-out that folks should be worried about. ISPs, Phorm, and others endeavoring to establish this business model know they have to go slow. First, establish a beachhead, then slowly evolve the system and business model. Long range ambitions? Opt-in or pay more for your Internet access. Think an adblocker will be the solution? A system like this could easily block *all* HTTP access if you don't fetch the ads. Fight it now or you'll regret it.

  30. NRT

    Test your Dephormation plugin

    From this link given by AC.

    http://understrictembargo.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/isps-beware-the-phorm-storm/

    a comment by R Strafford gives this link

    http://www.liesdamnedlies.com/2008/03/phorm-over-func.html

    This (second) site will trigger an alert from the Dephormation plugin: that the site uses Phorm for it's advertising.

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

    dephormation.org.uk

    Nick.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    More Progress

    The wording of the statement is telling:

    "It is true that we have had conversations with them [Phorm] regarding their services but we have concluded at this time that we do not want to be part of the network. Our decision was in no small part down to the conversations we had internally about how this product sits with the values of our company."

    In other words he has realised that Phorm and everything it stands for is all about snooping and making profit from what should be and should stay private information. Phorm is intrusive, invasive and should have no place in a free society.

    Of course, we're headed towards Gordongrad and it's a technology I'm sure he'd love to have implemented.

    The fight continues.

  32. Spleen

    Re: Is there a libertarian newspaper?

    @Dr Stephen Jones: I'm fairly sure the Telegraph is conservative (i.e. economically liberal but socially authoritarian), unless I've missed something. Aren't they pro-Prohibition?

  33. Geoff Mackenzie

    Plusnet is surprisingly Phorm free (ish)

    according to their technical people, and I'm inclined to believe it. There is some technicality I don't quite grasp but normal broadband customers won't be affected for now.

    Unfortunately after they suckered me into a phoney upgrade that slashed my off-peak hours (the unlimited ones) to a useless 8 per day, I still think they suck donkey balls and wouldn't recommend them.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Stupid, or what?

    Like "The Other Steve" I can't understand how the likes of BT have got themselves into this. Maybe I've just got 20/20 hindsight, but this was *always* going to result in a firestorm of bad publicity as soon as the details of what BT and VM are doing and, particularly *who* they are getting into bed with, got out.

    Just another case of the 'shirts' thinking they know best? Surely *someone* in BT, at least, must have said "err, guys, you *do* know who this Ertugrul bloke is, don't you?"

    What next? ISPs doing a deal with Alan Ralsky to supply 'targeted' UBEs to their subscribers? The Phorm deal is at about that level of nefariousness, IMHO

  35. xjy
    Dead Vulture

    Zapped for not eyeballing the ads

    AC: "A system like this could easily block *all* HTTP access if you don't fetch the ads. Fight it now or you'll regret it."

    The free ad-subsidized version of Eudora was able to spot right away if the ad was covered by another window or shoved off the desktop.

    And do you all realize that not reading ads makes the future provision of "free" software impossible? (can't see a tongue-in-cheek icon :-( ) And if everybody did it (TM) we'd be screwed?

    Which calls for compulsory brailling or audifying of sponsored information content for the visually challenged, natch. And a compulsory throat-grabbing robot arm on our monitors for anyone even thinking about obstructing the "free" provision of socially constructive messages from our benefactors.

  36. tech idiot
    Paris Hilton

    just the first skirmish

    It's great news that the Guardian have seen sense at least for now but there is a more fundamental fight to win. We need legislation expressly proscribing intercept by the ISP or anyone else without opt-in. The fact that Phorm, BT, The Guardian etc. thinks that this could fly shows that the law is shaky.

    How about El Reg starting a petition for web privacy a la the same privacy we expect from our mail and telephone services. This won't go away easily - too much cash to be had!!

    Paris - because now she can stop boycotting her daily fix of The Guardian, the FT will have to wait!

  37. citizenx
    Stop

    As an aside...

    Whatever happened to the "black boxes" proposed around the time RIPA was being debated?

    I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be told if the functionality to remotely monitor any connection was available. In fact, I understand that (informing) is contrary to IOCA anyway.

    Let's not forget Phorm but isn't it time to look at the bigger picture on interception of comms data?

  38. RW
    Paris Hilton

    The Global Village Bites Back

    Now that the interwebtubenetthing has converted the earth's population (or a sizable fraction thereof) into a single e-connected village, one of a village's characteristics now has global scope: your reputation, which becomes common knowledge and can't be shaken off.

    If the scum behind Phorm didn't have a demonstrable track record as spywaremeisters, there's a pretty good chance their system would have been quietly brought online with no flap a'tall. But Mrs. Jones told Mrs. Brown over the back fence, beware, he's a bad 'un, 'll stick spyware on your 'puter if you turn your back...and Mrs. Brown told Mr. Smith who told Miss Emily, and now the entire village knows.

    It's like word-of-mouth advertising, immensely valuable, but cannot be bought at any price. (Except for attempts by sleazy marketing liars who attempt to salt social networking sites with fake praise for the junk they peddle.)

    Paris because she's only sexually amoral afaict. And she seems to be honest.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Re: Plusnet is surprisingly Phorm free (ish)

    Yes they protest that they will have nothing to do with it. I suspect that like that sailor come politician, a quick interview with the BT main board Chief could cause them to re-arrange their thinking instantly.

    The problem with PlusNet is Ellacoya's "deep packet inspection technology". On the back of success with PlusNet, Ellacoya did a deal with BT Retail about 9 months ago.

    Just over a year ago, Ellacoya published some "anonymised" data at:

    http://www.isp-planet.com/research/2007/ellacoya_data.html

    They probably did a bit better than AOL (customer search info) in anonymising what they published, but will they always be so careful. Will Plod have instant non-anonymous real time access in times to come? See point 5.

  40. The Other Steve

    @tech idiot

    "We need legislation expressly proscribing intercept by the ISP or anyone else"

    We have some already, it's called the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act.

    "The fact that Phorm, BT, The Guardian etc. thinks that this could fly shows that the law is shaky."

    In fairness to potential OIX customers, I doubt they even considered the legislative aspects, nor should they really have had to, because it _should have been_ almost inconceivable that a company with the top three ISPs in the UK as partners would be selling anything even remotely dodgy. OIX will have been sold to their marketing people as an ad platform, and those people neither know nor care about the technical implementation of the platform.

    As for BT, well, I'm sure they'll hide behind the Home Office note issued by Simon "mass data mining is OK by me" Watkin, and say that the HO said they could do it, and that would be all nice and legal because of his rather novel interpretation of RIPA, but the law isn't, in fact, all that shaky AFAICT, and as the incumbent telco BT should have been well aware of this. Certainly they ought not to have started intercepting packets in summer 2007, well before the 'it's OK with consent and opt in' advice was issued, since they had neither, and since before Mr Watkin chimed in to muddy the waters, it was plainly obvious to all that to do so for the purposes of targeted advertising would be illegal under _any_ circumstances. And not just "oh, theres another fine from ICO, pay up and be about your business" illegal, but "oh shit, we're going to prison" ilegal.

    As someone already mentioned, the fact that BT (or any of the other ISPs involved) managed to get so far down the line without someone being in a position to say "Hold on a minute guys, this might not look so good to our customers", or "hang on a mo, there night be some issues with RIPA and the DPA here that I think we should discuss", or that people did but were ignored, is barely credible.

    And yet that appears to be exactly what's happened. I'm still having difficulty believing that people running such large companies can truly be _that_ stupid, despite having plenty of first hand experience of corporate venality and stupidity, which makes me wonder if they've something up their sleeves yet.

    Bastards.

  41. captain kangaroo
    Stop

    VirginMedia...

    are neither "sitting on the fence" or "silent" on the subject or Phorm...

    http://www.virginmedia.com/customers/webwise.php

    They talk of the Phorm partnership offering "new online protection and enhanced features", and "Phorm is the company providing this innovative solution, and it’s called Webwise. Webwise will help provide you with a safer and more relevant online experience by helping you avoid scam emails or websites, as well as making your online experience more relevant through advertising that matches your areas of interest."

    Looks like they are far from neutral on the Phorm issue...

  42. The Other Steve

    Re: Re: Plusnet is surprisingly Phorm free (ish)

    "See point 5."

    Partial quote below :

    "But ISPs will need to be on secure legal ground. If you collect this data, consult your lawyer, check that your AUP allows you to collect it, and make sure that local, national, and (if applicable) other nations' laws are not violated. "

    Guess no one at BT got round to reading that then!

  43. anonymous sms

    Phorms Customers?

    The Direct Marketing Association UK is Europe's largest trade association in the marketing and communications sector. The DMA was formed in 1992, following the merger of various like-minded trade bodies, forming a single voice to protect the direct marketing industry from legislative threats and promote its development.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Opt in - Opt out not the issue

    This should be strictly illegal.

    Unfortunately, I can believe that this is happening. All companies are trying to ring every cent out of every possible means. Legality has no bearing on whether a company will try or not. If it is proven illegal, the fines imposed for the offense will probably be of a lesser amount than the money brought in.

    My hope is that a few small ISPs will start advertising that they are not part of this system and that they will see vastly increased subscription rates.

    But there is then the problem of a small ISP using a larger ISPs circuits. What happens then?

  45. Alexander Hanff

    Good Job

    Best decision the Guardian have made since this scandal started, lets hope other follow.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Captain kangaroo

    Yes Virgin Media have that very phorm-friendly guff on their website but IIRC that has been on the website for quite some time. They have not made any statements to the wider Virgin Media community such as on the cableforum website.

  47. Chronos Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Marketing madness

    I can't help wondering whether this would have remained beneath the radar if Phorm's marketing department hadn't been asleep on the job. Calling their company "Phorm" was probably the most stupid action of the entire debacle.

    Think about it. The name smacks of malware immediately. Any existing word beginning with "F" that is transposed to a "Ph" immediately gains negative connotations. Phishing, pharming, the list goes on.

    I suppose we should be grateful that they were so stupid. Past tense, because it's obvious now that this will never fly. Will the next forced advertising privacy nightmare be as easy to spot is the question we should be asking ourselves. In fact, I'm worried that it was so blatant an error that it was deliberate. Decoy tactics, anyone?

  48. tech idiot
    Paris Hilton

    @The Other Steve

    I agree that the law seams pretty clear on the intercept/DP side but this was obviously not the case at BT! My suspicion is that they intend to play the long game and that's why we need an explicit law stating that there is no grounds for intercepting the data stream without express permission. If the law states this then they'll have to give in. I'm also suspect that the ISPs will introduce differential pricing to hardball customers into the program. Again, if the law was crystal clear then this won't fly.

    Paris - because it's always worth examing the detail....really closely

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re:Phorms unprecedented PR rearguard

    No amount of PR can turn black paint to whitewash. Face it Phorm, you're as sneaky as your spyware and if you have any sense you should get out of the fire, drop your crazy schemes and leave us alone. But please don't go back to your route(kit)s.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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!)

  53. 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):

    http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache:Lb4N9eEcqvgJ:www.teleclick.ca/2007/05/pepsi-uses-bluetooth-technology-in-interactive-advertising-campaign/+targetted+advertising+%2Bpepsi&hl=en

  54. 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.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    dephormation.org.uk

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

    dephormation.org.uk"

    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?

  56. 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.

  57. 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 Virgin.net then I be very surprised if you dont add it to your other 39co's.

    So If you do,

    ill dump V.net

    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 Virgin.net from the start, some 9? years,

    and have had excellent service.

    Dont throw it all away.

  58. 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.

  59. Peter White
    Pirate

    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

  60. 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 www.webwise.com:

    * We hold no data: http://www.webwise.com/how-it-works/faq.html#5

    * The system is legal: http://www.webwise.com/how-it-works/faq.html#6

    * Web publishers benefit from the system too: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/07/phorm_interview_burgess_ertegrul - see post entitled 'Internet Publishers Benefit Too'

  61. joe
    Stop

    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.

  62. 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 www.example.com/allyourhttparebelongtous/ 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?

  63. 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.

  64. tech idiot
    Joke

    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.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    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 webwise.bt.com 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:

    DO NOT WANT

    Joke alert - because somewhere there is a dead parrot.

  66. Eponymous Cowherd
    Alert

    Re:Re:Setting the Record Straight

    ***"No one has yet answered the questions about the webwise.bt.com 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

    Cheers.

  69. Peter White
    Joke

    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????

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

  72. 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.

  73. Sam
    Stop

    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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