Phorm, ISP monitoring, and privacy

In case someone hasn’t seen this already (several people I know haven’t), I thought I should pass this on. It doesn’t affect me as I am not a customer of any of these ISPs.

It has recently been revealed that the “big three” ISPs (BT Retail, Virgin Media, and Talk Talk) are planning to sell their customer’s web browsing activity to a third party advert broker, Phorm. This is not simply the URLs: they want to transmit the complete requests and responses of any unencrypted webpage accessed.

(Note this affects BT’s Retail ISP only. BT Wholesale, who provide other ISPs with ADSL connectivity onto BT’s network, are a completely seperate entity).

BT have apparently been sneakily trialling this system internally last year, all the time denying they have any connection with Phorm, according to The Register’s story on the 27th of February.

I find this completely unacceptable; Firstly, BT Retail lie about the fact that they’re trialling such a system. Secondly, and more importantly, there is absolutely no benefit to the customer; there has been spurious talk about “improving targeted advertising”, and “protecting against Phishing attacks”, but neither of these would be of any relevance to me whatsoever.

BT Retail want to opt everyone in to the monitoring by default. You can “opt out” of it, but all your traffic is still directed through Phorm; they claim it will simply ignore any opted out user’s data.

Apart from the privacy and contract law issues, it sounds like introducing a massive bottleneck and single point of failure.

The only way I could see this possibly being acceptable would reducing your bill or some other tangible incentive if you opted in to the monitoring: and that not opting in meant Phorm could not see your data. However, I would still never opt in to such a system.

There is more information on The Register’s Phorm Files, and

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