Commentary

Privacy International Takes On Phorm

The U.K.-based group Privacy International has added its voice to the growing roster of Phorm critics, condemning the company's platform as "dangerous and potentially unlawful." Phorm, like now U.S. counterpart NebuAd, uses deep packet inspection technology to gather information about people's Web activity, including their searches and visits to non-commercial sites. The company then serves targeted ads based on one's browsing history.

Phorm says it doesn't store information about users and that the targeting is anonymous, but advocates like Privacy International still view the platform is too intrusive. "There is an urgent need for the EU and US Congress to recognise that the entire online economy is shifting its business models in the direction of communications interception, almost always at the expense of privacy rights," the group states.

Privacy International also said this week that it has hired well-known anti-Phorm activist Alex Hanff of nodpi.org (no deep packet inspection) fame to lead efforts regarding privacy and online ad targeting.

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The organization additionally takes issue with secret tests that Phorm and the Internet service provider BT conducted in 2006 and 2007. Those tests arguably violated Europe's broad privacy laws, but the U.K. government has so far declined to prosecute either BT or Phorm. "The lack of action against BT Group in the UK with regard to covert trials of deep packet inspection must never be repeated," the group states.

For Phorm, the Privacy International statement is just the latest in a series of public rebuffs. Last week, Amazon and Wikipedia said they would not allow Phorm to gather information regarding visits to their sites. (The ISP BT is allowing publishers as well as consumers to opt out of Phorm's platform.)

Additionally, European regulators announced last week that they have commenced legal proceedings against the U.K. authorities for failing to take action regarding Phorm's tests.

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