British Telecom’s Doing ISP-Based Behavioral Targeting

Of Course Privacy is Still a Concern

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British Telecom began some ISP-based behavioral ad targeting testing today. Before privacy enthusiasts freak out, it’s on an opt-in basis…so far.

"Around 10,000 customers will be invited to opt in to the trial when they commence their browsing session. We will issue invitations at random," said British Telecom.

Although the test was supposed to begin in April, this is actually the third such test British Telecom has engaged users in, but the first one they get to participate in voluntarily. According to Digital Trends, BT ran trials in both 2006 and 2007 with the same "Phorm" ad-serving technology they’re currently using.

The whole thing is still apparently being investigated by the European Commission, and privacy buffs are likely still skeptical as well. That is always the case in situations like this though. "The burden is on the Phorms of the world to prove to users and skeptical privacy advocates that they don’t create databases of personally identifiable information that can later be mined for improper purposes," says Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling.

At least Phorm has enough sense to make privacy appear as a focal point on its website, even featuring a slideshow of "how it works."

Phorm's Data Incinerator

The controversy shouldn’t reach epic proportions as long as BT keeps the opt-in factor. It’s unclear if this is just for the tests or if they’re planning it for all users though. They seem to be under the impression that people will want to be involved anyway.

British Telecom’s Doing ISP-Based Behavioral Targeting
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  • John Doe Subversive

    I think the diagram says it all. There is no technical detail at all about what data is stored/processed. Importantly what independent body polices the channel queries.

    Channel: John Doe Subversive

     John Doe, John Doe Islington, John Doe Acacia Avenue, Trades Union

    Channel: Privacy Freak

      fipr.org, worldprivacyforum.com, openrights.org

    etc. etc.

    Matched channel give him a flash cookie, first party cookie, third party cookie, userdata etc. and if subversive why not send an alert to the management console in realtime.

    Bye Bye Freedom.

  • http://www.dephormation.org.uk Dephormation

    So how do web sites, including this one (which is unencrypted) opt in?

    Ecommerce sites, sites with Copyright content?

    If you own or operate a web site, there’s no consideration for your communications privacy, security or data integrity.

    ISP customers don’t own the content they view, they have a licence to view it. Phorm don’t make an identifiable request for the content they copy, it is stolen ‘on the fly’.

    Phorm doesn’t obtain consent to intercept, or a Copyright licence, in advance.

    So its utterly illegal.

    Given the complete failure of UK regulators to act to protect unencrypted data comms in the UK, the only options that remain to comprehensively protect your web site and business from industrial espionage is strong encryption and/or blocking BT customers.


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