BT deletes Phorm forums

BT has deleted user-forum threads discussing its use of the ad-serving technology that monitors users' browsers habits, as they did not provide 'constructive support'

BT has deleted from its user forums almost all discussions relating to the communications company's trials of behavioural ad-serving technology.

The technology — created by a company called Phorm and marketed by BT as Webwise — monitors users' web-browsing habits so it can serve them highly targeted advertising. Protests against the service have been held outside BT's offices, and some campaigners have repeatedly and unsuccessfully pushed for the prosecution of BT for allegedly contravening the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by using Phorm's technology without gaining the prior consent of its broadband customers.

BT is currently carrying out its third trial of Webwise, this time clearly asking for user consent. The company is presenting Webwise as a service that "increases your protection against online fraud and makes ads that appear on participating websites more relevant to your interests".

On Tuesday morning, BT customers who use the company's forums, known as 'beta forums', were shown a message from a BT moderator, informing them that "a number of forum discussions about BT Webwise" had been removed.

"Our broadband support forums are designed to be a place where customers can discuss technical support issues and offer solutions," the message read. "To ensure that the forums remain constructive we're tightening up our moderation policies and will be deleting threads that don't provide constructive support… We hope you'll continue to enjoy being part of the support community."

The message also included an invitation for those who "want to find out more about BT Webwise" to visit the service's webpage or contact BT.

"We have deleted a number of threads on our technical support forums, which we've done because the underlying and sole reason for the existence of the forums is to provide technical support for the customers and these threads had diverged from that purpose a long time ago," a BT spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

The spokesperson could not give an example of any thread that had been deleted that did not discuss Webwise.

"There are a number of forums and websites available outside of BT's own forums where debate and discourse on Webwise continues," BT's spokesperson said. "The purpose of the beta forums is to provide technical support [and the forums are] not for general discussion about matters pertaining to BT and its strategy. We don't provide the forum for any other purpose."

However, BT's forums contain an entire section entitled 'Forum: Innovation' and subtitled: "Gain an insight into the innovative work being carried out at BT". ZDNet UK has asked BT to explain the apparent disparity between the forums' stated purpose and the existence of an 'Innovation' section, but had not received a response at the time of writing on Thursday.