BBC Online and behavioural targeting09:42am on 04 Jun 2009While launching the new "Webwise Discover" product yesterday, Kent Ertugrul of Phorm indicated that he would be meeting with the BBC - "We are going to be engaging shortly with the BBC, we look forward to explaining to them how our system works, and maybe dispelling some myths that have been propagated about what it does and doesn't do." (transcribed from an interview with Patrick Smith on the PaidContent site). Can I ask that if Mr Ertugrul gains access to the BBC to discuss the Phorm system, that the BBC also arrange to meet representatives of campaigners concerned about the use of Deep Packet Inspection as a method for delivering Behaviourally Targeted Advertising, to ensure a level playing field? We have been engaging with a number of bodies recently, including staff from the ICO, EU Commissioner Reding's office and various parliamentary bodies, and would value the opportunity of meeting with representatives of the BBC, to also add our understanding of how the Phorm "system" works, particularly the part installed in the heart of partner ISPs, as we too would like to dispel some of the myths that have been propagated about what it does and doesn't do.
Yet Simon Davies yet again cannot seem to find it within himself to mention the name of the only company in the UK currently promoting this technology for BTA. It's inexplicable. I appreciate his concerns about Google, but the Phorm DPA-based model, operating at a deep level within the ISP network, is even more intrusive and far less considerate of the issue of both user and website consent for the interception of communications. If informed consent is the goal, then it seems remiss of Simon Davies not to mention the one BTA company whose methodology of DPI kit installed at the heart of the ISOP and intercepting ALL a customer's internet traffic, and fails to seek consent for the intial interception from the ISP user, nor from the webwsite whose content is profiled, but instead to focus on Google, who although they do present concerns, can only collect information from people who visit their site or use their products. If its about informed consent, as EU privacy law requires, then Phorm/DPI is far more worrying than Google. The current EU infraction proceedings against the UK government have been triggered not by Google's technology but by the very inadequate government response to Phorm/BT and their trialling of Webwise technology. It was remiss of the programme, and of Simon Davies. to fail to mention Phorm - after all, both of them are well aware of it.
Firstly - Phorm has already been trialled three times in the UK, twice covertly and once last autumn. So BBC licence funded content has already been profiled for commercial gain. Phorm IS live - we are simply in a lull between the trials and the rollout. "Definitely by the end of 2009" was what Phorm said - as a follow on from 2006, 2007, and 2008. And the BBC were being profiled all through the 2008 trials. For commercial gain. And that was eight months ago. You should have made a decision then.
Secondly - and I am not sure how many times I will have to say this, the argument for the BBC right now, does NOT depend on any decision as to whether Phorm is legal or not. It is simply a matter of the fact that Phorm are making unlicenced copies of BBC licence-payer funded BBCUK content for commercial gain. I am not aware of any statement from Phorm that contradicts that claim. It's already happened, and it will happen again, unless the BBC act to prevent it. The rollout will have 24 hours notice, so as long as the BBC are confident that their complex bureaucracy can prevent profiling of their content within 24 hours of the notice being given by BT (assuming you spot it) then I suppose you have nothing to worry about.
Decisions about Phorm's legality are relevant in the wider world, but do not matter a jot in the issue of the exploitation of BBCUK licence funded content for commercial gain. It's a matter of basic BBC Charter requirements, not legality.
The EU investigation will (ultimately) decide whether Phorm can operate legally in the UK with it's currently publicised model and whether the UK law enforcement is adequate to control technologies like commercial DPI based BTA . But it is totally irrelevant to the decision the BBC need to make NOW to protect their reputation and their website users.
"There have been trials and there has been no update by Clayton or anyone else for that matter, no info from BT, Vigin or Talktalk on how they will implement Phorm so what you tend to see is much guesswork and opinion based on schoolboy cookie hacking and amateur sleuthing."
More rhetorical comments without factual basis. None of the possible changes to the system alter the commercial basis on which BBCUK content is exploited.
"The BBC should also be mindful of who exactly they listen to, the anti-phorm lobby seems to be well armed with all the tricks of the trade."
I don't think the BBC actually need warning of that. I'm sure they are capable of making their own minds up. We note also your rhetorical comment "tricks of the trade". Kindly confine yourself to factual arguments.
"All the BBC have to go on is what the anti-phorm lobby wants them and others to believe."
Factually incorrect. There is a vast amount of published information available and a serious scarcity of detailed refutation from Phorm or the ISPs.
"As for the legal side, we are forever hoping the courts would apply the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law, what the anti-phorm lobby seem to be trying to influence is the exact opposite."
Well - your comment about not wanting the letter of the law applied is most revealing? If Phorm and their partner ISPs have not broken the law they have nothing to worry about.
"I very much doubt if the various acts were originaly drawn up with suppressing ad networks on the internet. As for bringing children into the argument, being a parent of two young kids I wouldn't dream of letting them use the internet unsupervised. I feel reasonably confident that I best protect them that way from things far worse than whatever demons you imagine lurk within Phorm. "
I am so glad you take a responsible attitude to your children. But not all children are in homes where the adults take that attitude. Which is why we have laws to protect them against careless or maliciously inclined adults who seek either to exploit them, or fail to protect them. It's not YOUR kids I'm worried about actually.
Think of it this way. If I came to you with a scheme for displaying adverts on the UK BBC website pages, but didn't actually reveal the technical details, what would you say to me - would you be able to give me a decision? Of course you would - you would show me the door, and if the press wanted your response, you would give it - NO you are NOT going to show adverts on the UK licence payer funded pages of the site. The decision on Phorm Webwise OIX is just as simple and it is time it was made, and made publicly. No commercial exploitation of UK licence funded BBC content. Phorm not welcome. Using esactly the same criteria as you use to reject Audience Science profiling of your UK licence funded pages. Not the illegality of the model. Not the privacy argument. Not the complicated details of the technology. Just because "...it is not appropriate for third parties to use the data profiles of the users of BBC services for commercial gain... " Best wishes.