BT finishes trial, expects to use Phorm

BT finishes trial, expects to use Phorm

Summary: The company has said it could now deploy Phorm's ad-serving technology, following the completion of the third trial

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TOPICS: Networking
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BT has finished its third trial of behavioural ad-serving technology from Phorm, and has announced that it will probably go ahead with deployment.

The trial of the technology, which BT has branded 'Webwise', began on 30 September and ran until 10 December.

The technology has attracted protests from peers, politicians, technologists and thinktanks, with concerns having been expressed over potential legal and privacy issues. The technology is also the subject of a probe by the European Commission.

BT said that it would now perform an analysis of the trial, adding that it expects to use the technology.

"The trial has now concluded and achieved its primary objective of testing all the elements necessary for a larger deployment, including the serving of small volumes of targeting advertising," said the company in a statement on Monday. "There will now be a period of joint analysis of the results. Following successful completion of analysis of both the trial results and of any changes required for expansion, BT's expectation is to move towards deployment."

BT declined to comment further at the time of writing. The company would not confirm whether or not 10,000 customers had taken part in the trial, as originally planned. BT also declined to give details, at the time of writing, about how many invitations had been sent out, or why it had taken two and a half months to conduct the trial. Originally the trial was intended to last for two weeks.

Phorm's ad-serving technology works by assigning a user a unique identifier through which their browsing habits are observed, so that advertisements can be targeted at them. Although BT stated that this trial would be anonymous, anti-Phorm campaigner Alexander Hanff said that he was concerned about opt-in cookies remaining on users' systems.

According to Hanff, if BT deploys Webwise throughout its network, any customer who opted into the trials could automatically be opted back into Webwise once it is deployed, as opt-in cookies will already be present on their machines.

"This is a significant concern and one I can see no immediate solution for, as BT [is] unable to identify the trial customers to instruct them on how to remove these Webwise opt-in cookies," wrote Hanff on the UK Crypto mailing list.

Speaking to ZDNet UK on Monday, Hanff said that BT may still decide not to use the technology.

"There's still pressure from the [European Commission] and the public that may mean BT doesn't deploy the system," said Hanff, who added that the Crown Prosecution Service is still considering whether to launch a prosecution against BT over two previous trials.

BT conducted two trials of Phorm's technology in 2006 and 2007, attracting protests from privacy campaigners and politicians. The trials were conducted without users' consent, which campaigners claimed contravened interception laws.

Topic: Networking

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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14 comments
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  • What did BT actually say? What did Phorm actually say?

    The article suggests BT said more than they appear to publicly have said and as far as I can see it is Phorm who are being more positive about the outcome of the Webwise invasion of privacy trial.

    BT will be cautious of course because running Webwise could leave them open to charges of Copyright Infringement and it threatens privacy of their customers and website owners.

    BT said this: We will study the findings from the trial and will make further announcements concerning the launch of the service for BT Total Broadband customers.

    Phorm said: The trial achieved its primary objective of testing all the elements necessary for a larger deployment, including the serving of small volumes of targeted advertising. There will now be a period of joint analysis of the results. Following the successful completion of analysis, both of the trial results and of any changes required for expansion, BT has informed the Company that it expects to move towards deployment.

    I'm happy to be corrected on any of the above assertions, but I think I am right on all the points made above. And Phorm must be stopped, 19000 people agree according to the Downing Street Petition!
    biph
  • Damned either way

    If what biph says in the previous comment is correct, and it certainly seems to be, then why are BT still associating themselves with these people? Phorm have brought BT a huge pile of grief and are still spinning as hard as they can. BT needs to have the courage to hold up their hands and say that they are no longer going forward with this.

    If BT really are that thick skinned that they will continue to plough on with this nightmare despite what their customers appear to think and want, then ... well ... I guess they deserve what they get.

    I for one have been advising people who ask, to go to Eclipse or Plusnet. If BT infect Plusnet with this, then the list will drop to one. What I tell people who ask about BT as an ISP is between me and them, but I'm sure you can work it out.
    Andrew Meredith
  • naive...

    I'm sure your friends will thank you for sending them to an ISP who will charge more or provide slower connections speeds> Who do you expect to pay for your free lunch? You watch TV with adverts- and I'd guess that even if you consider yourself to idealistic to use google or yahoo that 99% of the population use one or the other- and in case you hadn't realised they are both more invasive than phorm.

    So, rather standing on your sopa box, why don't you try to understand the basic commercial percepts of the real world and stiop getting sucked in by what seesm to be a very small group of NIMBY's...?
    ukguy-ebe79
  • I wouldn't say so

    No one is expecting a free lunch; that's why we pay ISP subscriber fees; to provide us with a private, secure communication service.

    And the ISPs pay one another interconnection fees, so no one loses out there either.

    The 'commercial aspects of the real world' are well established, and working just fine without Phorm. The commercial aspects of the real world require Phorm to obtain consent for interception from both parties to a communication, and buy a copyright licence before copying and processing content they don't own, particularly so if that content is being used to disadvantage the author (by promoting competitors).

    As well as obtaining informed opt in consent from the ISP subscriber.

    So its not naive at all. Naive is thinking you can intercept private data communications, and copy & sell someone elses creative work, without asking or paying for the privilege first.

    Actually, its offensive and illegal too.

    Doing it twice to thousands of people and the web sites they visited in 2006 and 2007, without even bothering to tell the Home Office or ICO, is probably going to get someone in a lot of bother. I'd call that naive too.
    1000250712
  • Shill

    > naive...

    Blinkered .. back at you.

    > I'm sure your friends will thank you for sending
    > them to an ISP who will charge more or provide
    > slower connections speeds

    The recommendations are based on customer satisfaction scores, uptimes, and personal experience of their services across a multitude of lines .. as well as more esoteric considerations like whether they are selling your click tracks to the highest bidder.

    > Who do you expect to pay for your free lunch?

    Either nobody or whoever I choose. NOT whoever a huge monolith like BT chooses for me.

    > You watch TV with adverts

    Actually I don't. I have been using MythTV for several years now and very seldom glimpse more than a millisecond or two of adverts on the way through, while dabbing the skip button.

    > and I'd guess that even if you consider yourself to
    > idealistic to use google or yahoo that 99% of the
    > population use one or the other- and in case you
    > hadn't realised they are both more invasive than
    > phorm.

    I tend to use google and have a google mail account that I use in emergencies. I also have a Tor proxy running inline with a Privoxy proxy which would make any tracking they tried moot.

    > So, rather standing on your sopa box, why don't
    > you try to understand the basic commercial
    > percepts of the real world and stiop getting
    > sucked in by what seesm to be a very small
    > group of NIMBY's...?

    You consider yourself to be in the majority of those who have properly considered the issue. Unfortunately I do too, and there is no reliable proof either way. You also think you have understood the harsh realities of the world and think I've missed a trick. Unfortunately I think you have been duped by the expensive marketing machines running full tilt on this one and that I've got a clearer view of the realities. Ahh well.

    If they were being honest about their intentions, they would offer a browser add-on that did all this for you, rather than install black boxes at the ISPs and scarf heaven knows what off the data streams. Actually that has already been tried quite a few times over the years in various different guises and guess what, people didn't buy in. They didn't like the idea quite frankly. So phorm are trying it again, only this time it is being installed invisibly at the ISP so they don't get a real choice.

    Oh and if you call some piece of high velocity spin next to the opt-out a real choice, then shame on you.

    That is of course if opting out actually does opt you out of everything the boxes are doing. Who's to say on that one .. not even the ISP.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Naive? Me?

    Welcome "UKGUY" - good of you to join to put an alternative (all be it a minority) view!

    Naive is one thing I am not in this area. Naive though is a view that we *need* deep packet inspection to be employed to afford our speedy data connection.

    For instance, I quit BT only when they announced the trial was (finally) starting and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. I now do pay about 3 pounds more per month with no contract period tie in and much faster speed, unthrottled and best of all, with a confirmation in writing that the ISP is not considering using Phorm's invasive, copyright infringing, intercepting Webwise system designed to follow me around and sell my interests to the highest bidder.

    Also, because I won't use an ISP who is up to this "behind my back" (for two years at least) I am not aiding them use the work of others, which is copyright, to better themselves.

    Someone is on a different planet if they think that targeted ads will pay for broadband. How many ads would they need customers to click on to get back the
    biph
  • Because after all... Phorm is 121Media

    >If they were being honest about their intentions, they would
    >offer a browser add-on that did all this for you, rather than
    >install black boxes at the ISPs and scarf heaven knows what
    >off the data streams. Actually that has already been tried
    >quite a few times over the years in various different guises
    >and guess what, people didn't buy in. They didn't like the idea
    >quite frankly. So phorm are trying it again, only this time it is
    >being installed invisibly at the ISP so they don't get a real choice.

    Indeed, because as anyone who really has looked at the detail behind this issue would know, Phorm was 121Media and any good search engine will take you to what they were up to before they changed their name...

    In fact, you don't need to use a search engine, just visit F-Secure's website or Symantec. Look up "PeopleOnPage" or "ContextPlus". Adware from the Phorm loins which the good and trusted antivirus companies wrote routines to remove. Good job they did too, because as any average home PC user if you managed to get them installed on your computer you could not remove them (search for Rootkit on any good search engine)

    A read of the Phorm detail on Wikipedia might be what you need UKGUY. I believe Phorm learned from their mistake when their PR agency removed factual content which was a bit too truthful for them. It is a good summary of the type of people we are dealing with.

    One thing for sure: Phorm's system Webwise has NO PLACE in our democracy. And it must be stopped. And BT and Phorm should face trial in a UK court for their activities in 2006 and 2007. Anyone who agrees should write to their MP and the Crown Prosecution Service (the CPS are deciding if there should be a prosecution and are not sure if there is enough public interest)

    I am not a tin foil hat wearer and have not protested against Phorm or BT. But I am one of 19500+ people who have signed the Downing Street Petition against Phorm.
    biph
  • name all the companies using dpi

    i am a little confused. You worked for BT ,but now you turned against them.

    what is amazing is that no one knows much about frontporch over here in the states, not even the basics how it works, where deployed, when, and with what isps.

    to much attention is being paid to the large well known companies, like phorm, nebuad, but no one is talking about all the rest. We should start a petiton listing out all of the companies doing this, so their users know. Now that would be of benefit to many.
    malleylaw@...
  • I was a customer

    LOL yankee geek - I quit BT as a customer, I did not work for them.

    I do not know of any smaller companies doing this DPI for target advertising. In the UK we have not got ANY doing this right now. There is target advertising and to be honest I'm not against that.

    Targeted adverts is ok. I'm happy to be asked to choose from a selction of companies who I want adverts from. I'm happy to be offered the opportunity to tick boxes against a list of interests. BUT I won't have anyone decide to spy on my interests or those of my family. That is a step out of line.

    That's why Phorm is trying to do this. Their previous attempts of getting consumers to install adware were FAILURES. Customers do not want. Why don't they understand that? They will fail this time too because we're not all computer experts but we know a snake when we see one.
    biph
  • And before anyone starts...

    I know Google does track users, but there's a deal we strike when we use Google. I choose to use the search engine but not gmail. That's a choice and I'm happy with that. But I can also use other search engines too and I don't always have to use one at all.

    What's wrong with Phorm is that even if I opt-out in the BT set up, my data still goes through their system. But that's only one of many wrong things about it!
    biph
  • who else is using dpi?

    we all know about google issue, but let's make a list and see who knows what;

    LIST OF ADVERTISING COMPANIES USING DPI

    comp how used it when where

    1) phorm
    2) nebuad
    3) ????????
    4)
    5)
    6)
    7)
    8)
    9)
    10)

    once we have that info then we can contact the proper people on both sides of the pond!
    malleylaw@...
  • name all the companies using dpi

    OK WE ARE GETTING SOMEWHERE
    HERE IS MY LAST POST:
    ______________________________________________

    who else is using dpi?
    we all know about google issue, but let's make a list and see who knows what;

    LIST OF ADVERTISING COMPANIES USING DPI

    comp how used it when where

    1) phorm
    2) nebuad
    3) ????????
    4)
    5)
    6)
    7)
    8)
    9)
    10)

    once we have that info then we can contact the proper people on both sides of the pond!

    ______________________________

    NOW I RECEIVED A PM.......OK IF YOU WISH TO SEND PM

    2 people said look at a company called adzilla.......??????
    and 1 gent told me to look at front porch?????????????/or porchlight?

    LETS VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!,do we add them to our list?
    malleylaw@...
  • Better source of info...

    I found this: https://nodpi.org/forum/

    Yankee I think you'll find all the info you are looking for is there. They seem to know what they are talking about.

    AFAIK Nebuad in the US is all on hold. The US legislation is very clear about the DPI approach being wrong. And Phorm is the only company brave (stupid?) enough to be actively doing it in the UK where the government and enforcement authorities seem to be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. But FrontPorch is another company trying to do this, however it is Phorm who are up there at the top of the list, having been involved in trials 3 times now with BT customers (twice "illegally" when they did not tell/ask anyone and once "illegally" when they tried to get around the law but many think they failed)

    I say "illegally" because we have yet to see this tested in a court of law, which must happen but which the UK government is trying not to do for some reason (I'd rather not suggest a conspiracy theory because that's what Phorm and their PR team would like to suggest is what Anti-Phorm people believe)
    biph
  • name all the companies that USED or are USING dpi

    votes are coming in, and we have 2 companies to add.

    i looked at that nodpi group, but they only chat over and over about same company, phorm. With so many geeks, like me, we should know what companies have been using dpi for the past few years. we need to continue to alert officials what companies have used dpi or still using dpi. this is also the only way that consumers shall be made aware that this is going on.

    name all the companies that USED or are USING dpi

    1) phorm
    2) nebuad
    3) adzilla
    4) frontporch
    5)____________________?


    WHO KNOWS WHAT COMPANY NUMBER 5 IS ??????
    malleylaw@...