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"Simply put, three of the UK's largest ISPs (Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk) have decided to sell your private browsing history to an advertising broker. Yes, the entire list of every web page you visit gets sent to Phorm (the broker) in real time, as you click, so they can send you 'targeted advertising'. Naturally the ISP's are not too keen on telling their users this, they'd much rather feed us all platitudes about how it'll help combat phishing and how the targeted adverts will be so much better than the random ones we see today. In fact, they didn't even announce it to the UK press, we had to find out about it from the New York Times!"
So what do they actually see?
Phorm doesn't just see the URL of every page you visit, they see the entire content of every single web page (with the exception of encrypted pages). That means they can read your mail if you use most types of webmail, view all the posts you make or read on web forums, obtain the content of most webforms you complete, in fact just about anything you do on the web that is not encrypted can be hoovered up by Phorm. Phorm claim they do not store this information for more than 14 days.
"BT will begin technical trials of the BT Webwise service from mid-March, 2008. We will be inviting around 10,000 BT broadband customers to take part in the trial. The invitation will be presented through a special web page that will appear when you start a web browsing session. At this point, those customers invited can switch on BT Webwise, choose not to take part or find out more information. (This is wrong as you are by default opted-in!)
The trial involves only BT Retail consumer broadband customers - it does not involve customers of BT Business, BT Ireland or other BT-owned ISP's, including PlusNet.
When switched on, BT Webwise:
* Provides extra protection from fraudulent websites designed to steal your personal details through 'phishing' - e.g. fraudsters impersonating bank websites.
* Reduces the number of irrelevant adverts you see on participating websites.
With the start of the trial, your questions here on this forum and discussions on the subject elsewhere, we've decided to set up this thread as a place where BT customers can discuss BT Webwise. We accept that many of you have questions and concerns about BT Webwise, and we'll try to answer them here.
Before posting, however, I would encourage you to first read the information about BT Webwise available at www.bt.com/webwise. These pages explain how BT Webwise works, how you can switch BT Webwise on or off and how BT Webwise ensures your privacy by not collecting any personal information about you.
If you want to learn more about the company we're working with to deliver the service, Phorm, their website - www.phorm.com... - also contains plenty of useful information, including an explanation of how the Open Internet Exchange (OIX) works.
BT Group Communications"
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), a leading government advisory group on internet issues, has written to the Information Commissioner arguing that Phorm's ad targeting system is illegal.
In an open letter posted to the think tank's website today, the group echoes concerns voiced by London School of Economics professor Peter Sommer that Phorm's planned partnerships with BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse are illegal und the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
The letter, signed by FIPR's top lawyer Nicholas Bohm, states: "The explicit consent of a properly-informed user is necessary but not sufficient to make interception lawful.
"The consent of those who host the web pages visited by a user is also required, since they communicate their pages to the user, as is the consent of those who send email to the user, since those who host web-based email services have no authority to consent to interception on their users' behalf."
Phorm claims that all sensitve data will not be profiled, but FIPR argues its "restricted sites" blacklist system will be ineffective because of the vast array of webmail and social networking sites web users now visit.
Bohm uses the letter to urge the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, to ignore the conclusions of the Home Office, which advised BT and the other ISPs that Phorm's technology is legal. Thomas' office first said it planned to look into Phorm on 29 February. It told El Reg it only learned of the ISPs' data pimping plans two days before they were publicly announced on 14 February.
Earlier today web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said he would personally not want his traffic to be profiled by Phorm, and called on BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse to make the "service" opt-in only.