Ofcom And Behavioural Marketing

If you are a tecchie you will already know about Phorm and already have formed your own views. If you are not the whole storm may have passed you by. That Phorm storm however is still a blowin’ strong.

Phorm is a system that allows an ISP to monitor the internet browsing behaviour of its customers and to thereafter provide targeted advertising based on your surfing history. The pitch from an ISP to its customers is that it will make advertising, which is going to happen anyway, more relevant and that noone could possibly object to this. The ISP benefits from enhanced click through revenues.

The objection from some consumers is that it invades privacy. It opens the door to potential problems. For example one member of the family secretly looks at pornography whilst everyone else is out of the house. Phorm recognises this and starts pushing adverts for pornography to that computer which is also being used by the kids during the day. Not good.

In principle the government is saying it is not illegal provided consumers are informed as to what they are signing up for and privacy is respected. In actual fact during early trials of the system in 2006 and 2007 by BT customers were allegedly not informed of what was happening and this is potentially being seen as illegal by the EC.

BT seems to have actually started using Phorm in a new trial under a service banner called Webwise. It is based on an opt-in policy but no mention is made, naturally, of the controversy surrounding the technology.

Yesterday a meeting was held between Ofcom and various representatives of Government and the ISP industry to discuss the subject. Present were most of the major consumer ISPs, BERR and Phorm itself. The Government doesn’t really want to get involved here and wants industry to draw up it’s own voluntary Code of Practice. “Helpfully” it has also provided an example of such a Code.

Industry, I sense, is steeling itself for another bout of legislation. It doesn’t really want to get further embroiled in red tape/codes of practice and certainly the ISPA has not begun working on one.

This certainly is an interesting industry. As a member of the ISPA Council I need to look at the subject from the perspective of the ISP membership.  Consumer ISPs will be interested in whether they can upside their margins during tough times, and who can blame them. As a director of a Business to Business ISP I have no interest in Phorm. We provide uncomplicated quality connectivity to our customers without the additional unwanted addons (plenty of wanted addons though 🙂 ). As a consumer I might or might not like the idea of Phorm.

I’ll keep you posted.

Published by Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of trefor.net, writer, poet, philosopherontap.com

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