Strong words from the father of the Web

Elle Todd

Behavioural targeted advertising (commonly associated with the controversial Phorm technologies) found another enemy today in web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The Guardian reports that Sir Tim has spoken out strongly at a Westminster discussion against the ability of allowing people to snoop on individuals’ browser activity.

His impassioned speech focused on the fact that people want to be able to turn to the internet as an anonymous provider of information when they have a problem or concern – such as about their health. He noted that the commercial incentives to use and share this information were just too great so there was a need to prevent such data from being collected in the first place.

Strong words also came from Liberal Democrat peer Lady Miller who said that “Our privacy laws are outmoded and unco-ordinated, completely unsuited to the competitive commercial environment that is developing on the internet.”

Not a balanced discussion it seems from these reports. No consideration for example for the rights of consumers who do want to receive only targetted ads or for the effors of self-regulating bodies such as the Internet Advertising Bureau who recently issued some Good Practice Principles for businesses using behavioural targeting techniques.

Although the Information Commissioner’s Office has looked at this issue previously and at Phorm’s specific techniques, the continued interest in this hot topic means it is clearly going to be something the new Information Commissioner needs to look at again and Datonomy waits with interest what view he will take in light of renewed pressure.

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