BT advertising system abuses trust

The idea that BT are happy to consider the Phorm advertising system is amazing. To introduce a system that will monitor your activity AND act on that activity to deliver adverts to you and that you have to opt out rather than opt in is just ludicrous. It seems that BT are abusing their privileged position in carrying your data. Any other business that has an opportunity to collect your data must gain your consent to use it for anything other than delivering the service you requested from them. Why are BT able to do this? This is the kind of idea that comes up in sessions around building new ISP services and being more than a “pipe” provider, but gets shot down on the basis of overstepping the mark on privacy. I know this as I have been in that kind of meeting in the past. You need to think about ideas, but drop the bad ones.

If BT were to introduce a service that monitored all your phone calls for keywords then shared these trends with advertising partners there would be an outcry. What if they introduced this kind of service on the HomeHub Voice Over IP phone. You call Pizza Palace and they’ll relay the information to Super Pizza who can then put a discount leaflet for your favourite Pizza through your door or maybe even just re-route the call to save the printing! Sound scary? Well it’s not far away from some ideas that are raised in “service improvement” meetings.

Looking at the technical side, they suggest that you can switch it off by opting out. But you have to have a cookie on your system so they can see you’ve opted out. When you’re out you’re out 100%, the system doesn’t look at your traffic. But hold on, if it has to check a cookie then it has to look at something to check that. So it’s still looking at your traffic. That doesn’t sound like 100% to me. They also suggest that you can block cookies from to stop the service. So something tries to set a cookie and gets blocked. Again, that doesn’t sound like being out 100%. That system still has logs. Everything I have seen about this service has too many contradictions and rings too many alarm bells. Ben Laurie has a good technical write up and considers what they look at, the risks of attack on the service and that any IP based opt out would have to be on a household not an individual.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with running targeted advertising. I don’t like it personally, but many people would love that. As I have said in the past, people would be happy with all sorts of different services as long as what they are getting (or trading) for cheaper service is clear. BT are calling for clarity on speeds, so lets have clarity on the whole service.

BT, you hold a position of trust. Please don’t abuse it.


3 responses to “BT advertising system abuses trust

  1. I recently heard about this on the bbc breakfast new this morning, there seems to be a lot of grey areas with regards to what BT are actually doing. I actually work for an online display network, so perhaps i might be able to provide some sort of clarification into this ‘Bahavioural Targeting’ process.

    The theory behind BT storing personal information is a mis-informed view, the information that is stored is purely a paper trail of sites that have been visited in the past 28 days (normally) – the idea is that a user would therefore have advertisements diplayed that are relevant to the individual, nothing sensitive is stored at all.

    The company i work for are able to track users by an array of different ways, such as their location, demograhpic, age etc. In no way is this information comprehensive enough to warrant panic from users to thinking that any case sensitive information is being stored, this is purely to display ad’s that are relevant to the computers cookie history, if you delete your cookies on a regualr basis this can be remedied, but understand that this will not make the ad’s go away, the only difference will be that the ad’s are no longer relevant to the user.

    Personally i never knew this was the way that online advertising was run before i entered into this industry, however working within this industry i have gathered informed information regarding this.

    I can however understand that there will be some people out there that find this intrusive and unacceptable, what i would suggest is that these individuals delete their cookies on a regular basis if they do not want ‘relevant ads’ displayed to them, just to reitterate though, this will not stop ad’s being displayed.

    Obviously there is going to be a mixed view point with regards to this and i can totally appreciate people thinking it is intrusive, however the information stored is only reagards to the computer, this information only shows site visited, the IAB and IASH both have strict rules on information that can be stored. If there is any more information required regarding this the industry regualtor IAB would i’m sure be happy to answer and queries. An excellent topic i think, i hope my info has been helpful to some.


  2. Thanks for the info Carlos.

    I appreciate that cookie tracking is the norm for advertisers. My concern is that the ISP holds a position of privilege and trust as it already has your personal information and carries ALL your traffic, and can therefore track all your activity, not just the sites which share a common advertising service. For example, this site does not currently carry any advertising, therefore it would not form part of a profile collected by services such as atdmt or Doubleclick.

    The issue with the BT service is that regardless of whether the cookie is blocked or regularly cleared, all traffic traverses their system if they are your ISP. You cannot fully opt out. Other ISP’s are trying to implement systems which don’t route your traffic via their tracking system unless you opt-in. The choice remains with the user.

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Gassiness!!

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