Phorm Calls Google Privacy Threat: Pot Calling Kettle...?
The inaugural edition was distributed this morning to journalists and other industry observers (a Phorm spokesperson would say only that it's being distributed to those who've expressed an interest in the company). It includes articles touting personalized ads, bashing Google, and complaining about a recent House of Commons privacy roundtable -- where Phorm wasn't invited to speak. At that event, held last Thursday, Web founder Tim Berners-Lee warned that Internet service provider-based targeting platforms -- such as Phorm's -- could be harmful. He argued that people should be able to navigate the Web without being tracked, according to The Register. "I have come here to defend the internet as a medium," he reportedly said.
Phorm responded to that criticism in its new newsletter. The company said the technology is "not the same as is having a 'spy camera' in your room, nor is it akin to the post office reading people's letters." Rather, Phorm argues, "the system is more like a mail sorting machine, which has no knowledge of who you are, and directs the right ad to the right person."
Privacy advocates have objected to ISP-based behavioral targeting, arguing that it's more intrusive than older forms of behavioral targeting because ISPs can collect information about all Web activity, including searches and visits to noncommercial sites. Older behavioral targeting platforms -- like Tacoda or Audience Science -- only collect information across a limited number of networked sites.
For that reason, privacy advocates, and some lawmakers, say that ISP-based targeting requires consumers' explicit consent.
But Phorm -- and some ISPs that would like to enter the Web ad space -- counter that Google poses a similar privacy threat because it, too, has access to a wealth of information about users' Web activities.
So it's not surprising that another newsletter item criticizes Google on privacy grounds. "The launch of Google Latitude resulted in the voices of privacy advocates ringing out around the world and a severe case of tinnitus for the search engine's PR people," the Phorm article asserts. The newsletter says that privacy advocates objected to the feature because Google "is adding yet more personal data to the extensive user information it collects from its search engine and its display ad serving company, DoubleClick."
In fact, Google is not keeping logs of users' locations, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Additionally, Privacy International did object to Latitude -- but on different grounds. That group argued that the system had a design flaw that could result in stalking, because it's theoretically possible that a phone could be enabled without the owner's knowledge.
Google answered that it has a safety feature to alert users of some smartphones that Latitude is running, and will soon extend that feature to other mobile platforms.