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Privacy Communications Networking Your Rights Online

BT Silences Customers Over Phorm 196

An anonymous reader writes "The Register reports that BT, the UK's dominant telecom and internet service provider, has 'banned all future discussion of Phorm and its "WebWise" targeted advertising product on its customer forums, and deleted all past threads about the controversy dating back to February.' Phorm is a controversial opt-out system for delivering targeted advertising that intercepts traffic passing through an ISP in order to profile subscribers via an assigned unique ID based on their online activities. Subscribers can opt-out at the Webwise website but are opted-in again if the Phorm cookie is cleared. Firefox users can install Melvin Sage's Firephorm add-on to manage their interaction with Phorm and Webwise."
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BT Silences Customers Over Phorm

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  • Re:What about wget ? (Score:2, Informative)

    by mmu_man ( 107529 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @01:53AM (#25855721)
    Actually wget can use cookies, but you have to pass it a cookies file each time... so any script using it will miss the thing.
  • Re:What about wget ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by tck42 ( 227122 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:18AM (#25855793)
    Or just us a .wgetrc file and specify your cookie file in there. I use curl instead, but same idea with .curlrc...
  • Re:Just a thought... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:22AM (#25855809)

    That appears to be the case:

    Just to clarify: we do not serve adverts into the traffic stream. The websites within which the ads appear are in fact our partners. They choose to partner with us to bring you more helpful, relevant and yes, more valuable advertising


  • by AnalPerfume ( 1356177 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:27AM (#25855823)
    For years I assumed I needed to pay BT for the line rental so I could get broadband through the telephone line, as I assumed only they could provide it. I got my calls and broadband from companies who give a shit about their customers. Then I found out that there are several companies who can do line rental / call / broadband deals (all of those I checked out were cheaper than BT, and not all signed up for Phorm). When I found this out I was completely away from BT within one month. If you're in the UK, and value privacy and a company who actually wants to please you, I suggest you do some Googling and be prepared to switch. They escaped criminal punishment, government punishment, the only reason they keep doing it is that they assume most people believe they are stuck with BT. If you do switch, make sure you tell them why; who knows, if they see enough rats abandoning ship it may make them rethink the Phorm deal. ispreview.com & adslguide.org should give you a starting point.
  • by RocketRabbit ( 830691 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:53AM (#25855923)

    I encountered this with Apple. I was on their forum a few times, making rational complaints that they didn't support a certain professional camera's RAW files (Epson R-D1). Within hours, the post would be deleted. The first time I thought it was a glitch. After that I knew they were fucking with me.

  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @03:35AM (#25856045)

    I personally know an enterprising Scot making a decent stack on this concept.

    https://www.vpntunnel.co.uk/ [vpntunnel.co.uk]

  • by Xiroth ( 917768 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @04:40AM (#25856245)

    Hmm, here in Australia we have Whirlpool [whirlpool.net.au] for exactly that. The forums are very active, and all of the major ISPs have employees who get involved to at least refute rumours and clarify information about their services. It's being able to get unfiltered comments from customers which is the most valuable, though. It's a very useful resource.

  • Re:cookie (Score:3, Informative)

    by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @05:46AM (#25856417)

    does anyone know why they have to implement it with cookies and redirects? (according to wikipedia)

    couldn't they have done this silently and leave users completely unaware of it?

    As far as I can gather, it's not BT doing the dirty work. They simply route all HTTP traffic through the Phorm system, and their processes are set up so there's no way to filter whose traffic gets routed that way.

    By the time it reaches the Phorm system, it may well not be associated with any specific BT user - Phorm don't know who has what IP address - so the only realistic option for them to use something at the application level.

    If anything, it's an indictment of our data protection laws that customer rights can be so easily signed away - all that needs to happen is for BT to include in their next bill "Oh, by the way, we're updating our terms and conditions, please check our website for further details".

  • Re:Just a thought... (Score:4, Informative)

    by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @06:39AM (#25856607) Homepage

    Mod parent (insightful and informed AC) up.

    As much as I hate Phorm (luckily I'm not with a Phorm ISP), that's not entirely accurate. As mentioned by an AC (but likely to get lost) Phorm only modifies the ad selection for the Phorm advertising network. It does not strip out other ads and replace them with their own (although it wouldn't surprise me if someone had suggested that), it just tries to target ads from a select network of advertisers.

    That said, it does still piggy-back any content that I put up on my website by reading it and gaining marketting data from it. I sure as hell didn't agree to that, so I'm investigating methods of stopping them profiting from my content when I don't get a cut and when I purposefully don't put adverts on my sites.

  • Injection warnings (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @06:50AM (#25856641) Journal

    It's about time that all http web traffic was https instead, so the likes of BT could not inject their garbage into pages without people knowing the pages have been compromised.

  • by jdfox ( 74524 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @07:00AM (#25856689)

    Why not just switch to another ISP? Nobody is forced to use BT.

    In some parts of the UK, especially in rural areas, BT is indeed the only provider. I can't imagine how they manage to sell any broadband at all in urban areas where there actually is competition: they're quite expensive, and their support is shockingly awful.

  • by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) * on Saturday November 22, 2008 @07:58AM (#25856845) Homepage Journal

    How dare BT remove my revenue-source and jeopardize my ability to continue providing a Free website to my customers?

    It is my understanding that BT won't be removing your ads. Instead, "WebWise" will be a competing advertising provider to the likes of Google, Microsoft, etc. You can elect to put Phorm ads on your site instead, and in theory, those ads will be behaviorally targeted at the people browsing your site. (Or at least, the people who haven't opted out.) If you don't use Phorm, whatever provider's ads you sign up for will be shown.

    The shitstorm, as I understand it, isn't that website owners' ads won't be displayed. It's that people using this WebWise thing while browsing your site will be reporting what they're doing to a third party, and since it's opt-in, many (most?) probably won't even know that they're doing it.

    Worse, because WebWise now knows that Joe Schmo is interested in whatever it is your web site is advertising, say, cars, then it will start displaying car ads from your competitors on sites that have contracts with Phorm because Joe browsed your site.

    All in all, pretty scummy, but I'd genuinely be surprised if it actually removes ads from sites that have nothing to do with it. Especially since they're talking about making it opt-in, I can't imagine that wouldn't be unquestionably illegal.

  • Still not correct? (Score:4, Informative)

    by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) * on Saturday November 22, 2008 @10:23AM (#25857399) Homepage Journal

    Okay. Let's suppose I'm Google, and I have expenses to pay, so I put ads on my site. However people from British Telecom are seeing ads from Phorm instead.

    Again, this is not my understanding of how it works.

    As I read it, if you put Google ads on your site, people from British Telecom are seeing Google ads, period. However, as a web site owner, you can instead choose to put Phorm ads on your site, in which case, people from British Telecom will see the behavior tailored ads.

    There's nothing new in that. What is new, and what I understand has everyone so up in arms, is that when British Telecom people are visiting your site (and seeing Google ads), Phorm is finding out about it and logging that fact, so that when British Telecom people visit other sites that have Phorm ads, what they will see is based on what they saw when they visited your site (with Google ads).

    Plus, as an opt-out system, people won't know that the sites they're visiting are being silently watched by a third party, which is always very uncool.

    If they're actually replacing content served by non-affiliated third parties (i.e. Google, or site owners who run Google ads), I'd like to see a reference to that, because I'm wrong in how I believe this works.

  • by Blue Stone ( 582566 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @02:32PM (#25858945) Homepage Journal

    Please mod this and all similar posts down (nothing personal TheRaven64).

    Phorm is not "Inserting adverts [and thus] creating and distributing a derived work from the copyrighted material."

    It is performing a man-in-the-middle attack to glean information from all ISP subscribers, and using that information to serve 'tageted adverts' on PARTICIPATING websites; sites that have signed up to use Phorm as an advertising provider.

    The only copyright infringement that might occur is that Phorm scrapes websites (by hijacking the ISP subscriber's session) but does not respect the robot text. It can therefore (arguably) be said to be in breach of a website's usage agreement.

    Phorm have said that they respect the robot.txt restrictions only in agregate: where no robots are allowed they will not go, but if ANY specific spidering is allowed, they (wrongly) calim that they are also allowed.

    Phorm (and apparently also BT) are scum. I pray that they're found guilty of computer misuse, but this will have to be the result of a ruling by the EU (rather than the incompetent British government).

    It goes without saying that, should this happen, the guilty parties will not serve jail time (since they are corporate and rich with contacts in the government) but hopefully, the immoral and corrupt spyware scheme that BT is creating with Phorm will be stopped.

  • by Haeleth ( 414428 ) on Saturday November 22, 2008 @04:32PM (#25859759) Journal

    i don't know how much choice Brits have with regards to broadband access. if it's anything like the U.S. then BT subscribers probably won't be able to just switch to a different broadband provider and boycott BT's actions.

    Thankfully we have a lot of choice and a very competitive market. It is trivial to switch to a different provider, and while most of your data may still be going over BT's networks, BT won't have a legal leg to stand on if they try to intercept communications belonging to people who aren't even their own customers.

  • Re:Heuristic: (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikechant ( 729173 ) on Sunday November 23, 2008 @07:48AM (#25863817)

    The British Parliament has nothing to limit the damage it can cause to its own citizens. All it takes is a simple 50%+1 vote to take away British citizens freedoms. Like speech.

    Not really accurate. You need a majority in *both* houses of parliament to get a bill passed, and the House of Lords does not have a majority for the governing party. The house of lords *can* be overridden (via the parliament act) but this takes considerable time and will not always succeed (because if the house of lords is being overridden it can be very awkward and delay virtually everything in order to get concessions on a particular issue). The prime recent example is 42 days detention without trial - this was effectively blocked by the Lords and then abandoned by the government. There have been a number of other civil liberty issues where the Lords have blocked changes or forced concessions.
    That's not to say that the Lords block everything 'bad' but they do act as a considerable safeguard.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!