I hadn’t anticipated quite the response to my last article.

I have Phorm PR giving me a pat on the back and anti-Phorm bloggers vying for my blood! Ironic since I did not show my actual hand…

I am deliberately staying on the fence on this issue – for the moment. I am totally against unlawful tracking and assumption in reading my ‘unopened post’ for advertising purposes – but I think the Phorm debate raises an interesting question from a commercial technology view point that Facebook raises from a personal one.

Home shredders are selling like hot-cakes as people take on board the concept of Identity theft. Yet look at the personal details of habits and friends and what-have-you posted on Facebook. Stories of relationship and employment problems abound as a result… there is this duality that digital technology creates. Trying to educate my parents to email me or text my mobile is a better way of getting me then a land-line with answer phone is only part of the problem technology has on social impact on our dealings with one another. What is private? What if my mother knew all my secrets. Would I confide in her things that I would not tell my friends? Would I tell my friends things I would not wish to share with her? So when these natural walls are removed, by that I mean ‘choice’ there is naturally a feeling of being invaded and out-of-control. This is an ethical dilemma.

To this, the great bloggers who have come to voice their anguish, I genuinely stand with them. However there is another side to this argument, and for this reason I must maintain a level of balance before I jump in and say this must be stopped by any means possible! That is because there are great benefits in technological advancement, and at a basic level I too want a simpler and easier life – and if someone can find a way of helping me select content I am interested in quicker and have it waiting for me when I get home – yes sure I may just consider the end-results and not the behind-the-scenes methods. Would I rather better, more relevant and targeted ads? Well that’s different, as I probably would rather no ads given a choice, funnier and cleverer ads a further second – but sure if I am interested and looking for something and someone can suggest hey – have you seen this, yep, I may be persuaded this could be a good thing. Damn, did I just admit that?! But no, I fundamentally do not want to be tracked, by CCTV, RFID or anything else. Period. This is an ethical dilemma.

Writing as I am from Israel, having just visited the holocaust museum, I found myself asking myself the same question I did when I visited Auschwitz. As appalled as I am by human behaviour after seeing first-hand the effects of biased ideologies in a supposed modern and civil society within a graspable history, I am also aware of another question looming. When there are modern medical breakthroughs using results from Nazi experimentation, can the end ever justify the means? This is an ethical dilemma. How can you say to someone dying of cancer that there miracle drug or machine costing millions to prolong and ease the life of their family member, could have been sold and as a result saved thousands the other side of the planet from basic sanitary ailments. This is an ethical dilemma. When I heard recently of a friend’s daughter’s life whom I remember being born, has recently been saved as a result of genetic modification of human/animal experimentation, a friend whom I have looked to for moral guidance, I find myself in an ethical dilemma. Despite the distaste in these examples, it is real-life never the less and it reveals that if ever I found myself on either side of those above fences what would I do or choose? I may re-cycle to save the planet but does my conscience extend to not buying certain coffee and chocolate when I consider labour conditions at source, or refuse to go to Dubai when I see buildings being built with less-than-adequate/slave labour (delete as appropriate) being used in construction of their illustrious 7* architecture.

So when behavioural targeting is all the discussion right now and we are only scratching the surface of where this will go, I need to be involved in this debate. Because like others, I have to see where this erosion of human sanctity of life can and will end and it needs to be brought to the forefront and be discussed. That is what Phorm have brought on to the table, knowingly or not. I have to continually switch from a marketer to a consumer to a basic human in order to think these issues through in order to offer the best advice and help steer the course of this technological evolution. And that, my friends, is why I still remain as a technologist wrestling with these issues on the front line, as opposed to getting out and becoming either a missionary or a dive instructor.

Two sites I want to throw at you:

One a thread on CableForum where Phorm is under hot debate right now a being trialled by Virgin Media and BT, and where I have been challenged by some of their views and eager to throw a few spanners into others. (I will post my own comments to that thread against this post too – but go listen to their side.)

Secondly a website lookupanyone.com that claims to be accessing information from public records in US, but reveals age, addresses and phone numbers. And no, you can’t be removed from it.

Note: I offer the above as illustrations of 21st century life, and it is not the authors wish to offend. I do not in any way condone or see any redeeming value in the vile Nazi atrocities. The end can NEVER justify the means…