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Controversial Phorm software faces new battle

Controversy has resurfaced over the online advertising programme Phorm after Amazon, Wikipedia and the European Commission took action against the software.

Developed by 121Media, Phorm is an advertising programme designed to deliver targeted advertising based on individual user browsing habits by using a process known as deep packet inspection. The software, which has attracted the interest of a number of ISP’s including BT, Virgin Media and Talk Talk, monitors a user’s online activity to deliver specifically targeted advertisement which it believes match the user’s interest.

But the program has attracted controversy from privacy campaigners and customers of the ISP’s concerned, claiming that the implementation of software represents a breach of privacy and data storage regulations. Others have pointed to previous products developed by 121Media which have previously been classified by some security companies as forms of spyware.

The implementation of the software suffered two more setbacks this week, with both Amazon and Wikipedia stating that it will block Phorm from analysing the habits of their users.

In a letter to Phorm’s creators, Wikimedia’s chief technology officer Brion Vibber said: “We consider the scanning and profiling of our visitors’ behaviour by a third party to be an infringement on their privacy.”

But a legal challenge now surrounds the program from European Commission after they claimed that the UK government failing to ensure the privacy of UK internet users.

The EC claim that by allowing the use of Phorm, the government is failing to comply with European privacy laws.

It has also emerged that BT had already run covert trials of the software, in 2006 and 2007 but despite complaints to the police, Government and Information Commissioner’s Office, no action was taken against BT.

Viviane Reding, EU telecommunications commissioner said: “The rules are quite clear. A person’s information can only be used with their prior consent. We cannot give up this basic principle and have all our exchanges monitored, surveyed and stored in exchange for a promise of ‘more relevant’ advertising.”

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