Ask most people about their views on Phorm and you’ll either get a blank look or people turning purple with rage.
In brief: It’s a ‘service’ that monitors all of your normal Web browsing, with the stated aim of providing personalised advertising to you. All of this monitoring is made possible under agreements with ISPs, including BT, Talk Talk and Virgin Media.
Those purple with rage see it as a major invasion of privacy – and we’re fully behind them. Given that it’s a private company that will be gathering this information, who knows what use it could be put to, or who it could be sold to – either now or in the future.
While many have already written to their ISPs to express their outrage, and intentions to leave the ISP that are running Phorm, others have chipped in too.
Tim Berners-Lee has said he thinks it’s a jolly bad idea and so have the Foundation for information policy research (fipr).
The fipr have written to the UK’s Information Commissioner questioning the legality of Phorm.
Richard Clayton, the treasurer for fipr, summarises the situation pretty well with, “The Phorm system is highly intrusive — it’s like the Post Office opening all my letters to see what I’m interested in, merely so that I can be sent a better class of junk mail. Not surprisingly, when you look closely, this activity turns out to be illegal.”
fipr’s major points are
- It will involve the processing of sensitive personal data: political opinions, sexual proclivities, religious views, and health — but it will not be operated by all of the ISPs on an “opt-in” basis, as is required by European Data Protection Law.
- Despite the attempts at anonymisation within the system, some people will remain identifiable because of the nature of their searches and the sites they choose to visit.
- The system will inevitably be looking at the content of some people’s email, into chat rooms and at social networking activity. Although well-known sites are said to be excluded, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of other low volume or semi-private systems.
Some defence available
If you want to avoid being spied on by Phorm, a collection of clever clogs have come up with a Firefox plug-in, Dephormation, that does its best to confuse the hell out of Phorm.
An early heads up on Phorm (thanks Brian)