Developers launch anti-Phorm 'noise' tool

A privacy group has launched an anti-targeted-advert tool in the shape of AntiPhormLite
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

An electronic privacy advocacy group has launched a tool they claim will inundate ad-serving technology from Phorm with electronic "noise".

Phorm aims to serve targeted adverts to people by observing their anonymised web-browsing habits, and sending them tailored ads.

The AntiPhorm group, which launched its AntiPhormLite tool on Thursday, said their efforts were directed towards making information harvested by Phorm "worthless" by obscuring people's browsing habits.

"It appears we can't stop your ISP tracking and selling your surfing behaviour but one solution could be to make the data they do collect absolutely worthless to their clients," stated the AntiPhorm site. "We have developed AntiPhormLite to address these issues. AntiPhormLite is an application for the Windows platform designed to protect the interest of internet users and reduce the usefulness of data gathered by Phorm and others before this trend becomes irreversible."

AntiPhormLite will automatically visit groups of websites, follow links and backtrack, in an effort to emulate human browsing behaviour, and feed Phorm with erroneous information, wrote the group.

AntiPhorm claimed that issues around "dodgy content" being automatically downloaded would be mitigated by people's browsers only visiting sites within search criteria pre-determined by users. The privacy group added that, running in "silent mode", AntiPhormLite does not access any content on the web pages it visits, download images, execute scripts or run videos.

"No suspect content can ever reach your machine," the group claimed.

However, the website warned that AntiPhormLite may experience problems with certain configurations of firewalls. "If you use a firewall, for instance, Zonealarm, you may have to use its settings to allow AntiPhormLite access to the internet," the AntiPhorm group wrote.

Phorm declined to comment at the time of writing. "Phorm has no current position on this software," said a Phorm spokesperson.

Electronic civil liberties organisation the Open Rights Group (ORG) said the availability of this software, and other browser plugins that limit the effectiveness of advertising such as Adblock Plus for Firefox, show there is public concern about the reach of web advertising.

"This type of software [AntiPhormLite] indicates the public pressure against targeted behavioural advertising," said Becky Hogge, director of ORG. "People can employ their own protection, but we need regulatory institutions to protect our rights too."

Hogge added that it was still unclear under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act whether Phorm's scheme was legal, and that ORG was "seeking clarity" on this issue.

Editorial standards