Your Privacy for Sale: Internet Providers Cash In


UPDATE: Thanks to information obtained by RINF readers, it appears Virgin Media are trying to distance themselves from Phorm.

Virgin Media stated: “Virgin Media has signed a preliminary agreement with Phorm to understand in more detail how this technology works but we have not yet decided if it will be introduced. This information has been clarified to ensure our customers have the full picture.”

However, Phorm had this to say: “We announced exclusive agreements with three major UK ISPs — BT, Talk Talk and Virgin Media, which represent nearly 70 per cent of the UK internet market, to adopt our online advertising platform, the Open Internet Exchange (OIX), and a consumer internet feature, Webwise.

“Implementation is on track and consumer trials are expected to begin in the near term, followed by roll-out across these networks.”


By Mick Meaney – RINF | A new system that monitors your Internet activity in detail, and is possibly illegal under UK data protection laws, could be in widespread use within months.

Phorm, the company which developed the software, aims to provide detailed targeted-ads by building up surfer profiles from scanning every data packet on TCP Port 80. It is estimated that over ten million customers will be affected.

BT have used this software which scans and intercepts all internet traffic on a customer’s broadband connection, feeding back data to Phorm’s advertising network, the Open Internet Exchange, about which “keywords” were used by the customer.

The revenue gained will be an estimated £85m by 2010 for BT alone as the software sits on the ISP’s servers, which prevents Internet users from switching off the program.

The comparison between traditional Internet advertising services and Phorm has been described as “Checking which phone numbers someone has called and actually listening in to every word of every conversation.”

BT also carried out secret trails without informing their customers. Government experts stated this was a breach of criminal law yet the British Government has refused to investigate the covert wiretapping of thousands during 2006 and 2007.

Pete John, who raised the issue with the authorities, stated: “BT and Phorm seem to be above the law. No one wants responsibility for enforcing complaints against ISPs. ICO say the Home Office. The Police say the Home Office. The Home Office say they have no investigative role.”