Commission to throw the book at the UK over Phorm

Jeremy Phillips

The BBC website reports that the European Commission has just taken action against the United Kingdom over the controversial online advertising technology Phorm, following complaints about the testing of the behavioural advertising service on BT’s broadband network without users’ consent. According to the Commission, Phorm “intercepted” user data without consent and failed to keep people’s online details confidential. 

Telecom service provider BT admitted last year that it had tested Phorm’s technology on its network with thousands of customers, without asking for their consent or informing them of the trials. It later carried out further trials of the service, which it markets as Webwise, with the consent of users.  Both BT and Phorm say they took legal advice before carrying out the first trials.
Phorm’ trawls websites visited by users whose ISPs have signed up to the service and for whom the technology is switched on,  matching keywords from the content of the page with an “anonymous” profile. Those users are then targeted with adverts that are more tailored to their interests on partner websites that have signed up to Phorm’s technology. The technology differs from other behavioural advertising systems which tend to use data only from partner websites visited by users, and do not work in conjunction with internet service providers.
The Commission, which has expressed its concern that the UK has no independent national supervisory authority to deal with the intentional interception of user data, is reported as saying that it wants the UK to ensure there are procedures in place to ensure “clear consent from the user that his or her private data is being used”. The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications requires EU Member States to ensure the confidentiality of their communications and related traffic data. The interception and surveillance of communications should be prohibited unless the users concerned have given their consent.
Earlier Datonomy post on Phorm here
Wikipedia entry on Phorm here

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