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 webwise.net 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.