British Telecom’s Doing ISP-Based Behavioral Targeting

    September 30, 2008
    Chris Crum

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.