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Amazon refuses to be tracked by Phorm

The web giant has attracted praise from digital-rights campaigners for opting out of having its domains tracked by the targeted-advertising firm
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Online shopping giant Amazon has declared that it will not allow its website to be monitored by the targeted-advertising company Phorm.

Phorm monitors users' surfing in order to serve highly targeted advertisements. Its technology is currently being trialled under the name 'Webwise' by BT, with the users' consent. However, BT's first two Phorm trials, carried out in 2006 and 2007, did not have user consent, and on Tuesday, the UK government's failure to censure BT or Phorm for those secret trials resulted in legal proceedings against it by the European Commission.

In a brief statement on Wednesday, Amazon said: "We have contacted Webwise requesting that we opt-out for all of our domains."

Any owner of a website is free to opt out of having that site tracked by Phorm, and Amazon is the most prominent site operator to do so. Other services that recently opted out of the scheme include the blogging platform LiveJournal and the parenting community Netmums.

On 22 March, campaigners at the Open Rights Group (ORG) sent an open letter to seven companies, including Amazon, calling on them to opt out of Phorm's tracking. The organisation was not convinced that users would have enough information about Phorm's technology to give informed consent to being tracked, ORG chief executive Jim Killock said in the letter.

Killock told ZDNet UK that content providers such as Amazon "need to know what the public feeling is and that their users are very concerned".

"We are glad that Amazon have [opted out] and taken the lead," Killock said on Wednesday. "They are the first household name to do this. We think it's right because what books you read is potentially sensitive [information]. We think it's particularly good in the light of the EU decision to bring action against the UK government."

Killock said he did not know Amazon's specific reasons for rejecting Phorm's tracking, saying that the company did not inform the ORG of its decision. However, Killock did say it was "important that other leading companies stand up for the rule of the law on the internet and block Phorm and make that publically known".

To date, none of the other six companies addressed by the ORG's letter — namely Microsoft, Google/YouTube, Facebook, AOL/Bebo, Yahoo and eBay — has made any statement on whether they intend to opt out of Phorm's tracking.

A spokeswoman for Phorm told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that it was the company's policy to not comment on specific cases of publishers opting out of the tracking system.

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