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BBC not sure whether to block Phorm

Postby OnlineEditor » Mon May 18, 2009 5:49 pm

The BBC says the "jury is still out" on whether it will join websites such as Amazon and Wikipedia in blocking Phorm.

BBC not sure whether to block Phorm
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Postby cheysuli » Mon May 18, 2009 6:13 pm

Dear BBC,

As a licence payer, I'd like to help you with your decision.

Damn right you block phorm!

I hoped this helped.

Yours Faithfully (and so on)
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Postby clen_peapus » Mon May 18, 2009 6:33 pm

Why wait for the Government's response? The Beeb needs to 'grow a pair' and come out with a decisive view.
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Postby hiccup » Mon May 18, 2009 9:22 pm

It is conveniently never made clear in any of the multiple anti-phorm posts that inevitably accompany any mention of Phorm/Webwise that there is absolutely no current factual information on how it works or indeed how it will be implemented.
Guesswork, theories, tin-foil hattery to the nth degree but no current facts (Clayton's report was way back in early 2008).
If consumers are to knowingly Opt-In to Phorm/Webwise, for whatever reason, there is absolutely no reason for the BBC to get involved in what is ostensibly a commercial battle between competing technologies.
If you haven't opted in, Phorm is irrelevant to you.
Amazon have made a commercial decision to protect their own interests. They obviously wouldn't want consumers to be presented with better deals from their competitors, good for Amazon, not good for the consumer.
Privacy campaigners will always make their voices heard, no matter how few or irrelevant to today's values they are, but on this occasion there is too much of this particular smear campaign that doesn't ring true.
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Postby Perfectblue97 » Tue May 19, 2009 7:36 am

hiccup wrote:It is conveniently never made clear in any of the multiple anti-phorm posts that inevitably accompany any mention of Phorm/Webwise that there is absolutely no current factual information on how it works or indeed how it will be implemented.
Guesswork, theories, tin-foil hattery to the nth degree but no current facts (Clayton's report was way back in early 2008).
If consumers are to knowingly Opt-In to Phorm/Webwise, for whatever reason, there is absolutely no reason for the BBC to get involved in what is ostensibly a commercial battle between competing technologies.
If you haven't opted in, Phorm is irrelevant to you.
Amazon have made a commercial decision to protect their own interests. They obviously wouldn't want consumers to be presented with better deals from their competitors, good for Amazon, not good for the consumer.
Privacy campaigners will always make their voices heard, no matter how few or irrelevant to today's values they are, but on this occasion there is too much of this particular smear campaign that doesn't ring true.


The BBC is a state owned company and it is morally unacceptable for the BBC to participate in form, and potentially ilegal.

Phorm is run as a private enterprise, and it would violate the BBC's charter to allow what amounts to a third advertizing agency to use the BBCs site traffic for comercial purposes. It is also exteremly concerning that this data is being stored due to new UK data retention laws. Let me spell it out. Phorm monitors traffic to the BBC website. Phorm is legally required to retain this data. The UK government is legally able to demand that this data be handed over. This would allow unpresidented amounts of data to be used and potentially missused.

For example the UK govenrment could use anti terror legislation to get hold of data that would show not only who accessed what on the BBC but also which BBC-Phorm user also accessed similar stories on other news websites.

This data has massive comercial and legal implications.
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Postby Perfectblue97 » Tue May 19, 2009 7:41 am

I second the above. I pay my taxes including the "TV Tax" 9Though the government will never name it so) that pays for the BBC. Thus, as a BBC user and a stock holder in all but name I say NO TO PHORM.

Phorm is an invasion of privacy and another block in the wall of an Orwellian super state.
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Postby darkhairedlord » Tue May 19, 2009 8:18 am

Dear Hiccup,

Sounds just like the Nazis when they were buying the database equipment from IBM. nothing to fear from us, you can opt out, consumer choice. perhaps next week it will protect our children from pedo's and terrorists.
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Postby Amnesia10 » Tue May 19, 2009 10:48 am

darkhairedlord wrote:Dear Hiccup,

Sounds just like the Nazis when they were buying the database equipment from IBM. nothing to fear from us, you can opt out, consumer choice. perhaps next week it will protect our children from pedo's and terrorists.

And we all know how that ended.

Phorm are facing a seriously uphill battle to get acceptance, and no matter how many politicians they bribe they will fail to win over the public.
I am still writing my autobiography at the moment and I expect it to be finished in late 2016. I think that I now have enough for a second volume.

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Postby Burn_IT » Tue May 19, 2009 12:53 pm

no matter how many politicians they bribe they will fail to win over the public
Problem here is that the general PUBLIC know nothing about it and will not be told what it REALLY is and the implications.
All they will see is the biased opt out screen (if they are quick and are wearing glasses) that will tell them absolutely nothing about it.
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Postby wittgenfrog » Tue May 19, 2009 2:08 pm

hiccup wrote:It is conveniently never made clear in any of the multiple anti-phorm posts that inevitably accompany any mention of Phorm/Webwise that there is absolutely no current factual information on how it works or indeed how it will be implemented.
Guesswork, theories, tin-foil hattery to the nth degree but no current facts (Clayton's report was way back in early 2008).
If consumers are to knowingly Opt-In to Phorm/Webwise, for whatever reason, there is absolutely no reason for the BBC to get involved in what is ostensibly a commercial battle between competing technologies.
If you haven't opted in, Phorm is irrelevant to you.
Amazon have made a commercial decision to protect their own interests. They obviously wouldn't want consumers to be presented with better deals from their competitors, good for Amazon, not good for the consumer.
Privacy campaigners will always make their voices heard, no matter how few or irrelevant to today's values they are, but on this occasion there is too much of this particular smear campaign that doesn't ring true.


If, as you allege, there is "absolutely no current information..." about Phorm, then how come you see fit to defend it? The crux of this is that Phorm (however it works) is intended to "monitor" your surfing habits in order to serve "personalised" advertising. I can conceive of no possible implementation that has no profound implications for privacy and\or civil liberties.

There is no "tin-foil hattery" in being concerned about data being collected by shadowy organisations for what will, I'm sure, be very losely specified purposes. Google's 'Privacy Policy' is effectively carte-blanche to do what it likes with any and all data you provide, or it can collect, and I'm sure Phorm will copy that model.

The BBC will not be "interfering" in anything if it choses to block Phorm's ability to trace users' movements around its websites. From a user perspective the websites will work normally. As far as I know the BBC has no remit to facilitate the exploitation of its resources on behalf of 3rd party commercial organisations.... Should (say) the Security Services chose to use these data, then what would an interest in "Islamic" affairs on BBC websites indicate to them? Advertising is one thing, National Security another!

The notion of having to opt-in sounds a pretty impressive safeguard, but clicking "opt-in" when being offered something we want becomes almost reflexive; think about "Free software" or offers sourced from the 'net. Lots of 'Drive-by' Trojan sites use a similar technique.
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BBC already have the information to make a decision on this.

Postby phormaverse » Tue May 19, 2009 2:57 pm

hiccup wrote:It is conveniently never made clear in any of the multiple anti-phorm posts that inevitably accompany any mention of Phorm/Webwise that there is absolutely no current factual information on how it works or indeed how it will be implemented. Guesswork, theories, tin-foil hattery to the nth degree but no current facts (Clayton's report was way back in early 2008).


This is incorrect on several counts. Firstly, I have myself often made it clear that <A HREF="http://www.stopphoulplay.com" target="_new">Phorm</A>, and the ISP's that they claim to be in partnership with, are being rather coy about their current plans, and that on several aspects, their current public statements no longer match the information made available to people such as Dr Richard Clayton last year.

BUT - nevertheless - there is sufficient information available for the BBC to make the necessary decision about whether the Phorm Webwise product complies with the BBC's code of conduct. On <A HREF="http://www.stopphoulplay.com" target="_new">Phorm</A> websites, both phorm.com AND the http://www.stopphoulplay.com site there is sufficient information for the BBC to be absolutely clear that this form of ISP-based interception of communications, and site-scraping of browsing data for the purpose of delivering targeted advertising, is incompatible with the BBC's Code of Conduct. Do we have information about whether this Phorm Webwise product is profiling browser data for commercial gain - yes we do. Does it copy and profile the content of BBC UK pages as they are visited by BBC licence paying site users? Yes it does. Is all this unambiguously clear on the basis of undisputed publicly available information? Yes it is.

Just one quote should suffice from the FAQ page:
"The OIX is a revolutionary new technology platform that allows, for the first time, online advertising to be targeted using behavioural keyword data gathered at the ISP network level. This data allows for the most accurate user targeting, while completely protecting user privacy. Campaigns created in the OIX are served to ad spots on OIX-partner publishers and networks via an open exchange."

If the BBC have already decided that they can't use Audience Science on their UK pages because of the code of conduct, then the decision about <A HREF="http://www.stopphoulplay.com" target="_new">Phorm</A> is a no-brainer. It can be made without reaching for a tinfoil hat, without any guesswork or complex theorising. There is no need for Seetha Kumar to sit on the fence on this one. Come down now, and unequivocably support the BBC Code of Conduct and declare that Phorm are prohibited from profiling the contents of web BBC pages in just the same way as Audience Science are - and make that decision on the basis of publicly available, undisputed facts published on Phorm's own website.
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Postby wittgenfrog » Tue May 19, 2009 3:08 pm

Without having to don my tinfoil hat again, I wonder if the newly minted "hiccup" might possibly be connected in some way to "Phorm"? Certainly his\her style of attack posting is very similar to that on the "official" Phorm apologist site....
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Postby me1000000 » Tue May 19, 2009 3:58 pm

hiccup wrote:If you haven't opted in, Phorm is irrelevant to you.
Amazon have made a commercial decision to protect their own interests. They obviously wouldn't want consumers to be presented with better deals from their competitors, good for Amazon, not good for the consumer.


I've seen nothing to indicate that the way phorm's webwise will work has significantly changed, but in regard to this point in particular:

If the opt-out goes ahead as proposed on BT's website, then the first person to see the opt-out page makes the choice. The BBC will have no way of knowing if the person visiting their site has chosen to be monitored by webwise, or if that choice was made by another family member (or even a visitor to the house). Or if someone clicked through the webise invite without reading it. And it is difficult to see how Phorm could create a system that could reliably differentiate between two or more people sharing the same browser. Even if Phorm/BT did implement a network opt-out this would still be the case.

I pay my licence fee, if the BBC's content is going to be exploited for advertising purposes, then that should be done by, or for the benefit of the BBC and the money earned used to subsidise the licence fee, not for earning money for some unrelated and unauthorised company.


There's also an issue with Phorm's choice of name "Webwise" for their system in the UK, as this could cause BT users confusion with the BBC's Webwise - especially if they see the Webwise invite while visiting the BBC.
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Postby milliganp » Tue May 19, 2009 5:37 pm

There is a perfectly good article and technical diagram about phorm on the Wikipedia website (as long as you can spell it!).

This description has been admitted accurate by phorm and one of the key admissions is that EVERY url is inspected by the phorm server at the ISP, even those of users who have opted out. The difference is that the information from opted out users is not forwarded by the ISP to the phorm advertising server.

This is clearly in breach of most sensible interpretations of the relevant legislation.

Imagine a possible scenario. The Israeli secret service sets up a bogus travel company specialising in travel to Muslim states and asks phorm to mine users who visit certain websites sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and then presents them with what looks like a great travel offer which, using social engineering, allows them to collect personal details of these people. Is this sound, is it what we want to be possible in an open democracy?

Phorm is deeply invidious, read the facts and just wonder when you might be part of a group that someone wants to target?

By the way I've just had a letter from the Prime Minister's office which sticks two fingers up at the petition on the 10 Downing Street website. He's too busy distancing himself from dodgy MP's extravagances to care about civil liberties.
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Postby milliganp » Tue May 19, 2009 5:49 pm

And another point :!:

I've just checked the 10 Downing Street website and signing a petition does not involve a secure link! So someone could target users who go to a particular petition page!

The US State of New Hampshire has a motto based on a toast by war of independence General John Stark:-

Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.
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