Phorm is like a “TV camera in your room”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has compared BT’s decision to roll out Phorm as like “allowing them to put a television camera in your room”. Sir Tim was speaking at the House of Commons, during a heated debate about the commercial use of data on the internet. The debate was organised by Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson, Baroness Miller, and was attended by several high-profile politicians.

Berners-Lee said he was firmly opposed to any form of commercial traffic monitoring by ISPs. “What’s at stake is the integrity of the internet as a communications medium,” he argued. “It’s important there should be no snooping on the internet.”

He compared the kind of deep-packet inspection deployed by Phorm and others to reading people’s letters. “It’s opening the envelope and looking inside,” he said. “It’s the internet equivalent of wire tapping.”

“To allow someone to snoop on your internet traffic is to allow them to put a television camera in your room – except it [web snooping] will tell them a whole lot more about you than the television camera,” he later added.

Berners-Lee said he wasn’t convinced by Phorm’s claims that the data is anonymised. “We use it [the internet] without thought that a third party will know what we’ve just clicked on,” the world wide web creator argued. “That information is very sensitive. I feel it should just not be collected.

“Once it exists it can be used later for other purposes. All sorts of nasty things you can imagine happening. This information is incredibly valuable. There will be huge commercial pressure to release it,” he added.

Furious Phorm

Sir Tim’s comments drew a furious response from Phorm CEO Kent Ertugrul, who was a member of the audience, but had been declined the opportunity to join the panel of internet experts and politicians.

“There have been a number of things said that patently misrepresent what we do,” he argued. “We have the strongest privacy protection of everyone on the internet.”

He then went on to claim that the media wouldn’t survive without the increased targeted-advertising revenue provided by services such as Phorm.

“The answer isn’t to go into neo-Luddite entrenchment,” Ertugrul argued. “Journalists wouldn’t be here [if we did] because their salaries couldn’t be paid.”

Berners-Lee attack

Ertugrul then accused Berners-Lee of speaking from a position of ignorance, claiming the company had invited him to inspect its technology on several occasions, which he had declined.

That drew an angry response from Berners-Lee. “One of the reasons I haven’t met with you is I didn’t want anything I said to be misrepresented,” he argued.

“When you make a huge outcry against people who attack targeted advertising – that’s not what we’re here to discuss.”

“The mistake is the snooping on the internet,” he said.