Clearing my throat of Phlegm… I am assuming you are seeing the same press I am about Phorm and their abilities to personalise advertising by tracking user activity at ISP level? If not, then I suggest you get out from under your rock and go read. This is a crucial debate and a pivotal moment for human history. I cannot emphasise that enough.
Here’s some for starters.
- Open Rights Group questions Phorm
- Users offered ad tracking choice
- Illegal’ ad system scrutinised
- Petition to Prime Minister
- BT’s ‘illegal’ 2007 Phorm trial profiled tens of thousands
- BT Phorm trial leak rekindles row
I want to throw some spanners into the Phorm debate. I know one of the senior guys at Phorm personally and spoken at length with him about exactly how the technology works – he knows I am one of the biggest advocates of ethical considerations in digital advertising, yet by same token I helped find him the job there.
Consider these premises:
- All advertising is intrusive in nature. It’s like conversation ‘hey, have you seen blah’. You find yourself being led down a path not originally intended. It’s human nature. People dislike BAD advertising, not advertising per se. They discuss clever ads in conversation (From Smash and Charlie says to Sony Bravia and Cadbury’s Gorilla).
- People wear Jack Daniel’s tee shirts and Guinness hats. People tattoo themselves with their favourite football team. People want to brand themselves with Burberry, wear Levi’s jeans and Channel sunglasses and keep up-to-date with those trends and buy magazines to this avail and shop regularly in said brands shops. We HAVE to accept this is part of the fall out of brand building and there is your audience right there – and yes people like “good” advertising in that regard. They have chosen to opt in, even though ‘persuaded’ sub-consciously that it is the right thing for them.
- A user has a choice – pay for content, receive it free but accept advertising as a trading requirement, or steal it. All media consumption follows this model.
- Police track ISP’s data. They are monitoring and watching what goes on for a reason – security.
- Grouping people together into buckets is the exact point of a media agency – 18-24 year olds, ABC1s, etc for targeting reasons.
So we have to take above views into consideration.
Phorm do not link a personal identifier to any person (that is the curent law, developed BEFORE the internet!), they merely group people into buckets and buckets within buckets – the technology is doing the job of the media agency in that regard, using technology in situ similar to that the police use.
In terms of usability, anything that groups people into buckets – manually or technically – is not illegal nor unwanted by users or advertisers alike, espcially if in essence it is saying, hey have you considered this. To carry on with this line of questioning when no longer required is in no-ones interest. Nor is it appropriate in certain cases , such as listening into my phonecalls to sell me something or keyword scraping my instant messenger chats – when I am searching for info fine, not when I am communicating with friends. Facebook take note.
Let me give worse case scenario. I look for ‘prams’ today via Google. My wife has a miscarriage this evening. Tomorrow am targetted with ‘Mama’s and Papa’s’ ads. Sure there will be a reaction, but it could easliy have been coincidental, just like my friend saying ‘hey there is a pram sale on’, not knowing the change in my situation.
Tracking at ISP level will see changes in my behaviour and adapt advertising based on changes in my patterns and searches very quickly to help avoid such fall-out. It is dynamic and not static – better and quicker than a media company can – who targets me with ‘Mama’s and Papa’s’ ads a month later based on old methodology.
All technology has severe ethical considerations – just like nuclear power – used for catastropic bombs, or cleanest, efficient fuel for the environment? (sounds ike a HSBC ad! Hmmm, maybe branding works..?)
Now I totally stand by ethical considerations in advertising and appreicate Phorm is a mere catalyst for what is to come, but so was DoubelClick way back when. Look at reaction to Amazon when they started ‘recommending’ – now people personalise homepages and expect site to remember them. Change is difficult, but I do believe navigatable. Equally, we must see all angles to make a correct balanced judgement about technology, else we should just get out of marketing per se, because is rife with questions around ethics…
I want to hear you thoughts?
For anyone interested, I wrote a history of digital advertising for my MA – ‘Flash by name, cookies by nature‘ which may help set the scene.
The Phorm trials in 2006 and 2007 broke UK law, the legality of the current implementation is still being debated. Clearly marketing people don’t want to ask questions about ethics, but maybe they should ask questions about the legality of the data they are using.
Looks like Phorm’s digital PR agency is at work again. I’ve seen a couple of pro-Phorm ‘blogs’ in the past few weeks – invariably, all of them have been by digital marketing agencies or people.
That comment is, of course, devoid of any substantial comments on the merits or demerits of Phorm’s adware/spyware technology. I do think it’s noteworthy, however, that there is a pretty clear split between the way technologists and civil/human rights organisations feel about Phorm, and the way marketing companies do.
I know who I would sooner trust.
Phorm links to a Real Person aka ME in 2006 & 2007 & some of the illicit back-handed testing in 2008.
So it is not abstract, the Surfer CANNOT GO ROUND IT!
All their Personal Data goes through the Profiler whether or not the Data is used to serve ADS. (And could potentially all be used for general marketing statistics etc)
This is a blatant breach of my & others Human Rights!
I & others have automatic rights to Personal Thoughts & Actions which cannot blindly be ignored by any Institution or Company!
This is a “BLATANT MITM ATTACK”, in Law there has never been a distinction between “Written,Verbal & other such Data”, this is no different.
To try to make it so, is a blatant abuse of “Web Surfers Human Rights”!
The Phorm issue has nothing to do with advertising or marketing ethics. They propose to intercept and profile communications and that is plainly illegal without the express consent of both parties. They want my browsing data and I’m not going to let them have it. They want to profile users logged into my websites and I’m not going to let them do that.
Your bullet points left me scratching my head.
As far as I’m concerned effective advertising is usually the least intrusive, if it’s bothersome it’ll be disabled (on the web), muted or switched off (on radio/TV).
Despite being partial to both brands of refreshment, I don’t wear Jack Daniels or Guinness tee’s. As you say, an individual can opt-in; many millions do not. If I don’t opt-in to Phorm and my data does not reach their profiler that would halve the problem. However, I’d still block users suspected of being phormed from accessing my sites.
There are already functional business models for ad supported content that do not require intercepting communications.
Police do request data from ISPs, they don’t intercept traffic without a warrant. The police can be useful, spyware generally is not.
I’ve never been in your target demographic. Since the age of about 11, I found adverts designed to appeal to my age group patronizing. You might think that’s a new target demographic, I’ll side with Bill Hicks.
Anyway, these are my thoughts on the matter, thank you for providing the opportunity to express them.
“Phorm do not link a personal identifier to any person …” – of course they do. Every user gets a UID in a cookie, and that UID is used to identify them to every site they visit. Any webmaster can read the UID in the forged cookie and tie it into any other PII data they hold.
“… they merely group people into buckets and buckets within buckets … ” – this does not sound anything like the technical analysis of how the system works which was produced as recently as May this year. Any references to back up this statement?
I’m left wondering if there is any intrusion marketing people wouldn’t contemplate to make money. Its a serious question, where the heck do marketing people think the boundaries lie?
The idea of intercepting private communications is obscene.
Web traffic is no different to other forms of data communication. So where would marketing people draw the line? Is it right to intercept my email? What about voice over IP? SMS? Mobile phone calls? My domestic telephone? Faxes? Its all data on the wire. Technically, even my post is ‘data’. If Governments allow data communication traffic to be intercepted why stop at web traffic?
I’ve seen Phorm claim that because material is published, they have a right to copy it. Sadly the copyright law doesn’t see it that way. Copyright is the exclusive right of the copyright holder, and without a licence to use the material (which they would obtain if they made a separate identifiable request for a page, and complied with the copyright licence), Phorm are breaking the law every time they copy a web page.
What if the user gives permission? Web traffic, certainly down stream web traffic, is not licenced to an end user to give away (recall, Copyright holder has exclusive right to copy).
Particularly so if a page is intercepted illegally (ie, without the senders consent) before the user has even had a chance to read the copyright terms.
And what happens to the content that’s stolen? If you sell fridges, the term fridge appears on your web pages, and Phorm sell ads for your fridge selling competitors. So, the process of copying is also damaging too.
Take a step back and think about it. You can’t expect a society to function if you can’t trust the integrity, security and privacy of communications services.
But lets suppose this madness goes ahead? What then?
You are asking users to trust a firm with an acknowledged history of questionable software. Ask F-Secure what they think of Phorm, Apropos, Context Plus, and People on Page.
And what might users be consenting to if they opt in? Who knows, because Phorm haven’t published critical technical details for technologists like me to analyse. We’ve been waiting for months.
As for anonymity you can’t possibly anonymise terabyes of unstructured, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-character set data… and particularly so if as Phorm claim they don’t know your identity. So anonymity is just a hoax. Personal data will accrue in your profile.
What might lie ahead for web masters? Widespread use of SSL encryption which will render Phorm useless, blocking of ‘Phormed’ internet service providers, and other Phorm counter measures. Don’t believe me? Google dephormation.
Security flaws identified include possible corruption of Phorm’s data using fake UIDs, poisoning of the database using robotic crawlers, robotic ‘fake’ click-throughs/page impressions, ‘drive by’ opt in/opt out, trading in personal data linked to leaked UIDs, cookie swapping. All of which makes Phorm Webwise look a bit silly in terms of security (even if you trust these people to handle the entirety of your communications data honestly).
And I’m just reciting off the top of my head.
Phorm must be stopped.
“A user has a choice – pay for content, receive it free but accept advertising as a trading requirement, or steal it. All media consumption follows this model.”
Phorm/121Media chooses to rip off content from websites for free and gets paid to boost ads from other OIX participating websites.
“Phorm/121Media do not link a personal identifier to any person (that is the curent law, developed BEFORE the internet!), they merely group people into buckets and buckets within buckets – the technology is doing the job of the media agency in that regard, using technology in situ similar to that the police use.”
Phorm/121Media`s UID = Unique IDentifier
“Let me give worse case scenario. I look for ‘prams’ today via Google. My wife has a miscarriage this evening. Tomorrow am targetted with ‘Mama’s and Papa’s’ ads. Sure there will be a reaction, but it could easliy have been coincidental, just like my friend saying ‘hey there is a pram sale on’, not knowing the change in my situation.”
If someone CHOOSES to use Google, either Search or Email, that is their own personal choice. With Phorm there is NO CHOICE. A website owner who allows Googlebot can`t block Phorm/121Media from the site.
“but so was DoubelClick (sic) way back when”
DoubleClick is easily blocked through the use of your HOSTS, you can`t block Phorm/121Media.
“Phorm do not link a personal identifier to any person”
So what is the unique user ID number (UID) then??
Why do you all insist in treating the public as idiots?
The position of a website owner needs to be taken into consideration. Phorm will profile a website and then using that data advertise competing products on another website. Copyright of the website is totally ignored
This is a disgrace. For the last few hundred years, anyone interfering with private communications has been locked up.
I’d like to address your comment on Amazon and their tracking. Yes Amazon do track my purchases and I allow them to do so by using the ultimate opt-in of creating an account. If I don’t want Amazon to track me I simply don’t use their service or visit their site. How, with ISP-based tracking technology, am I supposed to confirm that I am not being tracked against my wishes? To the best of my knowledge from information seen from BT, it appears that even if a user is opted out the tracking data is still used and sold but it is just that the ads aren’t served back to the user. Therefore, you’re only opting out of receiving the ads, not opting out of being tracked. Is this ethical?
Also, is the forging of cookies for sites that promise not to set cookies ethical?
Waking up to find I have ruffled a few more feathers this morning…
Good, that was my intention. hello peoples. This is Dean Donaldson. Note I deliberately did not state my personal aspect on all this, I was merely posing a viewpoint to the counter-measure .
Advertsing works. Cookies are a part of the web – and you leave footprints. Whether we like it, agree with it or not – it is now here. 10% of ALL company revenue is spent on advertisng, and has been for last 90 years – whether on posters, TV ads, or sales men – because it works. Anyone think thet are immune to advertising must live on another planet, (and a quick check through your cupboards and wardrobes and garage will prove it!) but if you don’t realise that you are being ‘persuaded’ then all credit to the ‘persuaders’, because that is their job.
How did you find my blog? Some “automated” system that enabled you to find content – that did not exist a few years ago. So you obviously appreciate technology advances to have your voice. So are we to herald all technology as inherently evil? Is it the medium or the message? Questions that have long been posed around – or you going to say ‘rock music is evil, TV is evil’ and go live in a Hamish community?
So my point is that advertsing and technology ARE part of the debate – and how both are combined and used is a given. You are not going to win this one by saying advertsing doesn’t work and we don’t want progress – there has to be a smarter and more navigatable solution.
I am not against advertising. I am against gaining intelligence this way. By installing devices between the user and the websites Phorm will see everything the user sees and scrape all data from all websites visited. Niether the user or the website owners have any way of turning this off or of being sure it is off.
Private parts of websites will also be scanned for keywords as Phorm cannot know that they are private. Something the search engines cannot do. Phorm can see the whole of the internet (thats a claim made by Phorm)
This intrusion on privacy and on copyright is ethicaly wrong and it is also illegal and must be stopped.
Slowly but surely the general public are becoming aware of it and as they do become better informed the level of protest rises. Any company contemplating this form of intrusion will loose business in the long term as once the nature of the intrusion is fully understood companies using it will be boycotted.
Join us on cable forum for a full debate, read some of the technical analysis available and get a taste of the passion involved. I am sure that as long as you are capable of independant thought you will be swayed by the anti-phorm argument.
‘So my point is that advertsing and technology ARE part of the debate – and how both are combined and used is a given. You are not going to win this one by saying advertsing doesn’t work and we don’t want progress – there has to be a smarter and more navigatable solution.’
Its called the EU Privacy laws.
The problem with Phorm is nothing to do with advertising.
Its about interecption of communication, which is, within EU law, illegal without the consent of both parties.
Advertising is really a red herring in this debate anyway.
Phorms model is based on all user data flowing through the profiler.
Their profit forecasts will likely be more based on revenue from selling the activity profiles of every ISP customer than it will from the OIX network.
The former , if it includes all users from BT Virgin and Talk Talk, is far more valuable a resource than the latter.
This is why the onus is on an unavoidable server, with all data going through it regardless of opting into or out of the adserving system.
In your words, they are stealing marketing data , or do you think they will pay the end users for that?
Phorm regard personal privacy as a problem getting in the way of their profits,the EU considers it a basic human right.
That is the fundemental issue.
Clouding it with inane references to the Police (who require a court order to obtain the information Phorms servers collect) and advertising mechanics is rather insulting to the reader.
I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that the majority of people opposed to Phorm’s intrusive technology are somehow anti-technology luddites, and believe the advertising doesn’t work.
Either you genuinely misunderstand our arguments or you are being disingenuous.
To re-enforce what’s already been said, we are not anti-technologists or luddites. In fact, many of us are ‘geeks’. We love IT and technology. Many of us work in IT or technology related fields and hold degrees in IT or technology.
Secondly, we did not say that advertising doesn’t work (though many of us, myself included, studiously avoid advertising whenever possible). What we are opposed to is the method of advertising delivery used by Phorm. The technology is intrusive and almost certainly illegal.
Finally, you claim to be concerned about the ethical side of marketing. What do you think of BTs covert trials using Phorm’s technology in 2006 and 2007, and BTs subsequent lies about it? Do you think the ‘product’ which 121Media produced called ‘PeopleOnPage’ was ethical? If so, do you disagree with the decision of anti-virus companies to label it ‘Spyware’? Finally, do you think it was appropriate/ethical for Kent/Phorm to organise a ‘Town Hall Meeting’ with technologists and the press in order to have an ‘open debate’ about Phorm, claim that the whole event will be filmed and released on the web shortly afterwards, and then subsequently refuse to release the video when the meeting put Phorm in a bad light?
I’m genuinely interested in your responses to these questions. Do you talk to Kent often? Have you discussed these things?
“The problem with Phorm is nothing to do with advertising… Advertising is a red herring.”
Ok, why would someone want data if not to turn it to profit? Data was the reason behind dot.com rush and subsequent crash. Data = money = power.
If I know what TV you watch (IPTV) then I can select programmes you will be more interested in watching which enhances your experience. If I know what programmes you want to watch I can sell space to advertisers. And we need advertisers as they PAY for content to be created and distributed unless you want to pay-per-view alongside extortionate licensing fees.
Why do you think Sky insists a telephone line is plugged into the back of your cable receiver?! Two-way – to monitor and track. If you don’t like it, don’t watch cable/satellite TV, as it is a condition of their offering. Bully boy tactics indeed – but where was the huge debate and anti-Sky campaign we now see with Phorm?
Why do people think the Internet is any different to TV?
Because most people have latched onto a tiny part and cannot see the much bigger problem… and laws simply do not move quick enough, or understand the wider technological ramifications.
If people want to be anonymous, and buy home shredders and do not like data being tracked, why do they spill their lives in Facebook and want to keep tabs on friends/colleagues?
Maybe we all like being voyeurs – until the tables are turned.
“The problem with Phorm is nothing to do with advertising… Advertising is a red herring.”
Ok, why would someone want data if not to turn it to profit? Data was the reason behind dot.com rush and subsequent crash. Data = money = power.’
I did address this in my post, as said, it isnt about advertising for phorm, OIX is a red herring.
Its about the marketing data of ALL customers of the big three ISP’s , whether they opt into , or out of, the Phorm advertising system OIX.
That marketing data, which would in effect be the browing trens of roughly a sixth of the UK’s population, is the valuable asset.
The problem is to get it involves breaking the law.
You mention ethics a lot, how much more unethical can you get than blatantly breaking the law for profit.
The 2006/2007 trials were even lied about after the fact to disguise law breaking.
Sky isnt ‘bully boy’ tactics, its a choice. I dont have Sky, and as far as I can tell, my world hasnt crumbled, the sun keeps rising in the morning, and no one is tracking what I peruse for an hour on TV the odd occasion I watch it.
With Phorm, there is no choice.
I want to use cable to access the internet in the UK?
I have to go through phorm (when implimented).
I get nothing in return, except 3 redirections for every web page I access, and a man who 3 years ago was under investigation in the US for his involvement in rootkits having access to more of my private data than an elected government.
Doesn’t seem ethical to me.
By the way, Im not that bothered about being anonymous, I am bothered about people exploiting me for profit.
I dont have facebook either, and I would warrant, despite your attempt to imply otherwise, a very, very small percentage of the people paying for accounts on these three ISP’s do either.
Facebook is voluntary, it gives something back for the data, a way for those that choose to be involved to have a web presence, Phorm gives nothing back.
It merely takes , for its own profit.
Another anaolgy that simply doesnt work.
Perhaps 3rd time lucky?
You seem to be ignoring the website perspective. Google index my site(s) to send users to my site(s) Phorm will index my site(s) to send people to competing sites.
My users traffic to my sites is private to my sites and my users. Phorm has no business in scraping that data to target my users with their OIX members sites, that is an invasion of privacy and a copyright issue.
With respect, the objections to Phorm are nothing to do with advertising, the issue is purely the misuse of technology to illegally intercept private communications by “stealth”.
I don’t really watch TV nor do I have a facebook account. The few folk I know that are on facebook have private profiles and I think you’ll find the majority of web users aren’t members of any social networking site. Furthermore given the backlash and subsequent withdrawal of facebook’s social advertising platform, it’s probably not the best example for the argument you attempted to make. But this is all irrelevant since neither TV nor social networking involves intercepting private communications without the explicit consent of both parties.
Your use of Sky needing a phone line to be plugged in as an arguement is erroneous. The phone line can be unplugged with no detriment to the receiving of programmes.
As many others have said, this is not about advertising per se (alth’ I have it blocked), it’s about the total intrusive nature of Phorm/Webwise into my interaction with my ISP. I pay my ISP quite a lot to be able use them as a conduit to the Web not to be spied upon in order to be bombarded with adverts I do not want.
My water cpmpany does not try to sell me Cola. My electricity comany does not sell me coal. Why should my ISP sell me adverts?
Would you allow yourself to be tracked if the ISP gave you free internet access in reward for targeted advertising that was relevant to you though? (I assume you search online for things you are interested in afterall…)
>Would you allow yourself to be tracked if the ISP gave you free internet access in reward for targeted advertising that was relevant to you though?
I wouldn’t, no. There is no such thing as ‘relevant advertising’. I studiously avoid all advertising. Just because I search online for things I am interested – even interested in buying – doesn’t mean that I will welcome adverts. Is this so difficult to understand?
I would rather pay 20 or so pounds per month to maintain my dignity and privacy than I would being able to surf for free and having my every move tracked.
I pay my ISP £24.99/mo to provide 30GB of peak traffic, 300GB off peak. They don’t need to know what I send/receive or why. Its none of their business. The problem of cost only arises when customers are sold, and therefore expect, an ‘unlimited’ service. If ISPs choose to sell an ‘unlimited’ service, then they only have themselves to blame for the consequences… not their customers. If “video is where the big money is” then the big money can fund its own network bandwidth.
Ok, So do we think their is a business case for seeing a duality in offering (despite what is being porposed currently) for those who would like to have free ISP and be tracked, and paid ISP and not tracked?
You still have not shown me a business case for allowing my sites to be profiled so that other competing products to my users.
Your non answer tells me a lot.
> “Phorm will profile a website and then using that data advertise competing products on another website. Copyright of the website is totally ignored”
Chris, not aware of your own business situation, but reality of life is many businesses sell through resellers – lets take Amazon online or supermaket offline – and the reason those businesses do so well is that they offers a central gathering point and choice to the consumers, which in turn leads to a sale for the supplier they would ordinarily not reach. Products should be able to with stand competitive forces, and in current climate, consumer feedback.
Would a business want to advertise competing products in their own store, no, I can appreciate that, but they often offer supplementary products from another manufacturer. In that regards understanding a consumer’s mindset to offer them suggestions is the basic premise of any in-store sales rep, or what Amazon does in an automated way. Phorm is attempting this on a much grander scale and for many,the ease to life could be seen as a trade to privacy in certain situations.
However, I struggle to apply relevance to copyright in this scenario.
The way Phorm works is to effectivally hijack my customers private viewing of my products so as to advertise competing products from their OIX site members. I would not advertise a competing product on my site. I might advertise a complementary one but that would be my choice.
Copyright is breeched if a derivative work is made of my site without my permission (The Phorm profile). I do not have to even put a copyright notice on my site. Phorm and the ISPs will have to ask me for permission (and all the other millions of sites).
I cannot see Tesco’s being too happy with Sainsbury knowing that custome A has been looking at product B on Tesco’s site can you?
Think you will find that both Sainsburys and Tescos operate loyalty programs to address that very issue. You can’t say consumers have choice on one hand, then try and block it on the other. Loyalty programs are a way of getting users to trade privacy and allowed themselves to be tracked. Millions already do it (backed by Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s as a way to find out how to sell more items!) – so this is my whole point – users are not as anti all this tracking as you assume, once they see benefits and rewards.
I am sure if someone passed you a fat cheque as a result of selling something on another ‘reseller’ site – you too may see another side of the coin…
Loyalty cards are nothing like Phorm’s privacy invasion and you know that. You are being particlarly obtuse I suspect deliberatly, for sake of argument or are you being paid to be?
Chris, If you can’t play nice, then I suggest you leave the playground. There is no need to be rude.
A debate looks at both sides of the argument, which is what I am trying to do, rather than standing in a corner and banging a drum like a Duracell bunny.
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the arguments for and against Phorm, based on other behaviour’s in real-life, and therefore we can not narrow this discussion to a single point of principle.
To do so ‘may’ win a primary battle against Phorm, but will lose the war overall, as erosion of privacy WILL come in via the back-door because the wider ramifications were overlooked. I suggest you look at Oystercard and Barclaycard tie up as a point of proof on a back-door identity card/tracking system and the ensuing public’s duped acceptance, if you need convincing.
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