For a little while it looked like things were looking up for Phorm, the internet advertising technology company. There had been a year of controversy about the company’s technology which monitors internet users web surfing behaviour at the ISP level – a technique known as “deep packet inspection”, which has raised accusations of spying with some privacy activists.
But at the beginning of the year, things went quiet. There were a few positive statements about targeted advertising from UK officials like Stephen Carter, and the company launched a trial with KT, the Korean broadband provider.
Now, suddenly, the controversy is raging again.
It has been a week of regulatory decisions on internet privacy issues.
The UK’s Office of the Information Commissioner has given the go-ahead for Phorm, the targeted advertising company to start trials with BT. While the ICO statement of this is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the service, it doesn’t raise any insurmountable concerns. Phorm is still under close scrutiny, but for now, allowed to go ahead.
Any company hoping to launch targeted advertising services should be watching the fate of UK start-up Phorm with great interest. In particular, they should take note of what this says about the public’s double standards on privacy.
Phorm is trying to build a new ad platform, serving ads targeted around users’ internet habits and interests. It is hoping to make this acceptable to the general public with reassurances that no personally identifiable information is kept or stored as part of the process.