Privacy group urges sites to say no to Phorm

 Online privacy and civil liberties organisation the Open Rights Group has urged major websites including Amazon, Google, Ebay and Facebook to opt out of Phorm’s targeted advertising system.

Jim Killock, the group’s executive director, said the software, which tracks the websites a user visits to match them with relevant advertising, is set to be introduced by major ISPs “in the near future”.

In an open letter to chief privacy officers at seven websites, he wrote: “You may already be aware of the very significant concerns expressed by many of your UK internet customers about the interception and processing of their data whenever it is viewed by ISPs who deploy the Phorm system.”

Killock said that opting out of the system would “provide reassurance to your customers and help them retain confidence in your brand, as well as the integrity of the internet as a whole”.

“We strongly believe,” he continued, “that it is clearly in your company’s interest, the interests of all of your customers and will serve to protect your brand’s reputation if you insist that the Phorm system does not process any data that passes to or from your website.”

The Open Rights Group chief spoke at a roundtable event at the House of Lords earlier this month which was debating deep packet inspection (DPI) technology — the technology on which Phorm’s ad targeting system is based.

Many on the panel expressed concern about the privacy implications of the technology — with web inventor Tim Berners-Lee likening it to “wire-tapping someone’s phone or opening their mail”.

Phorm CEO Kent Ertugul was on hand to mount a vigorous defense of his company and its software, stressing that no personally identifiable data or sensitive information was collected by the system. And despite its many vocal critics, Phorm has been given the green light to operate by the government’s Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Responding to today’s letter, a spokesman for the company said: “We are aware of the letter and note that the vast majority of recipients use or offer interest based advertising. Many of them have, like Phorm, demonstrated their commitment to user privacy as signatories to the IAB UK’s interest based advertising good practice principles.”

Author: James Verrinder