BT finishes trial, expects to use Phorm

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

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.