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Phorm Gets A RePhormed View From Virgin Media

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Phorm (or anything else other than cricket, come to think of it).  As a summary, Phorm is the contraversial company which:

  1. intends to monitor and then use ISP customers’ web browsing data to feed them targeted advertising
  2. claims to have signed agreements to deploy its technology with three major ISPs
  3. has been ditched by The Guardian who cited concerns about how “it fits with the values of our company”
  4. has “overzealous” PR which was caught editing and removing content from Phorm’s Wikipedia entry
  5. has hired at least three PR companies for its PR offensive
  6. has used these PR companies on forums claiming to be a “comms team” rather than a PR team
  7. uses PR companies that claim “tech errors” as the cause for misquoting Dr Richard Clayton’s blog
  8. is argued by the FIPR and others as being illegal under several different pieces of legislation
  9. has had its technology used almost certainly illegally by BT in secret tests in 2006 and 2007
  10. has yet to produce the full legal advice it claims to have that its Webwise product is legal
  11. has said little to refute the claims of Dr Richard Clayton & Alexander Hanff (PDF file)
  12. claims that any debate about its legality is “frivolous” yet where is the opinion to say Phorm is legal?
  13. has suffered a large drop in its share price since this issue came to public attention – from 3505p on February 25th to 1385p at end of business today.

I think that’s got most things covered.

Point 2 is the one I want to concentrate on here.

“Phorm has already signed agreements to deploy its technology with three major U.K. ISPs: British Telecom, Talk Talk and Virgin Media” it says on the BusinessWire page.

Earlier today The Register reported in the article “Virgin Media distances itself from Phorm ‘adoption’ claims” that:

“Virgin Media today sought to publicly clarify its relationship with Phorm, amid concerns that spin from the controversial ISP adware company has worried many of its customers.

Virgin Media has extensively rewritten information on its website about the “Webwise” advertising targeting system to make it clear that it has not agreed to deploy or adopt the system. The newly spelled-out position runs contrary to repeated Phorm press releases and statements made by its executives.

Phorm’s share price has been battered by the two-month storm over its history, technology, behaviour and business model.

A Phorm press release, sent to financial news organisations on 14 April reads: “Phorm has already signed agreements to deploy its technology with three major UK ISPs: British Telecom, Talk Talk and Virgin Media.”

Not so, says, Virgin Media. Its page about the technology has been updated to say: “Virgin Media has signed a preliminary agreement with Phorm to understand in more detail how this technology works but we have not yet decided if it will be introduced.”

That’s rather different to the claim that “Phorm has already signed agreements to deploy its technology with three major U.K. ISPs: British Telecom, Talk Talk and Virgin Media.”

It’s also unusual for a company that has been in discussions about partnering with another company to issue a statement contradicting a previous one from the potential partner.

The article goes on to provide more detail including the fact that Phorm has not returned a call requesting a comment.

Alexander Hanff, one of the more prominent contributors to the anti-Phorm discussion has made his critical review of the secret trials run by BT in 2006 and 2007 public.  You can read it here (PDF file).

Some video footage of the public meeting I alluded to here has been posted online.  Things worth noting are Kent Ertugrul’s failure to rebut any of the points already made in the public domain by Richard Clayton or Alexander Hanff; Richard Clayton’s presentation and explanation of just why Phorm’s product is illegal under UK law and Alexander Hanff putting Phorm’s product into a social, historical and legal context.

I had already reached my own conclusions about Phorm but seeing these articles and videos has reinforced that massively.

I do not want Phorm, I do not need Phorm and I do not want my web browsing data pimped out to an advertising company.

Published inInternetTechie