- 9 Apr 08, 18:34 GMT
The argument continues - is the web tracking software business Phorm a big brother intent on snooping on your broadband line or a helpful service keeping you secure from web danger while serving up delightfully targeted ads?
Some of the finest minds in the world of privacy, encryption and the law, have turned their minds to these issues - including most recently Dr Richard Clayton - and I certainly don't have the technical knowledge to pick apart their arguments.
But now comes what could be a killer blow to Phorm's ambitions in the form of new guidance from the Information Commissioner, Britain's data protection watchdog. I bet executives from Phorm scanned through to the end and felt pretty chirpy about the Commisioner's conclusion that their products can operate in compliance with the data protection legislation.
But it's a couple of paragraphs in the middle that really throw a spanner in the works, when the document suggests that the Webwise product should only be offered to consumers on an "opt-in" basis if the firm doesn't want to fall foul of something called PECR - Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
Now tell me, what do you do when you come across one of those online forms that tells you about some fantastic new service your bank/online retailer/ISP is offering for nothing and invites you to tick a box if you DON'T want it - in other words opt out?
I suspect most people don't bother - and so they get the service.
But what if you are asked to tick a box if you DO want it - to opt in? Equally, I suspect people are reluctant to make even the minimal effort that's required to opt in, and take-up is much smaller.
Then imagine that the service in question has been the subject of major controversy with a high volume of web noise suggesting users should avoid it all costs.
What's more one of Phorm's three clients Carphone Warehouse has already bowed to pressure, and decided it will only implement Phorm's webwise product on an opt-in basis. Surely then, an "opt-in" Phorm will be a minority taste - and that won't be of any use to ISPs hoping to sell advertising on the back of it?
When I phoned Kent Ertegrul, Phorm's chief executive, he strongly disputed this analysis. First of all, he insists that the Information Commissioner's document does not mean "opt-in" is the only option.
Secondly, he believes the process of telling customers about Webwise will fulfil the requirement for "valid, informed consent" that the law requires, with a web page giving all the details of what's involved and inviting customers to say yes or no, followed by later reminders that the service is switched on.
Finally, he rejects my suggestion that Phorm has lost the PR war long before it gets off the ground.
"We've only heard from a small group of vocal opponents so far. The public has answered very clearly in neutral polling that this is something they want."
The BT trial of Webwise is about to start and Mr Ertegrul is confident it will prove his case - that this is an attractive way of blocking unwanted adverts and internet fraudsters.
But is it really likely that BT and Virgin will choose to bring in Phorm on an opt-out basis when their bitter rivals at Carphone Warehouse are promising it will be opt-in? And in that case, who'd like to calculate how many of these firms' eight million or so broadband customers will say yes to Phorm?
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