Phorm Webwise - An Historic Moment!

  bigsteveUK 22:27 28 Oct 10
Locked

When BT Retail covertly snooped on their customers' internet usage and got caught, the do-do hit the fan (that is probably a fair summary from the ISP's point of view)

They wheeled out their Director of Value Added Services Emma Sanderson to go on the BBC and Channel 4 to defend making a full copy of web pages thousands of their customers viewed, and then scanning the web pages to "categorise" their customers' interests (without asking their consent first)

Then they replaced adverts on pages with different adverts, and all this became clear when a BT employee (who shall remain nameless) published a confidential paper discussing the importance of this being done in "stealth"

Hence the UK faces EU court action, but in a Freedom Of Inofrmation reply this week the Crown Prosescution Service announced that after 2 years of messing around with the investigation, they are finally planning to make a decision about legal action.

Few expect any action of course! However, it is interesting to see the BT Webwise pages have finally become extinct.

"PAGE NOT FOUND" (or something very similar)

Maybe this is a good sign? Can we believe that maybe, just maybe, this huge ISP has made a decision (at LONG LAST) that customers are entitled to be given an "Opt In" to having their interests profiled and sold to advertisers etc. Have they realised that Phorm is long gone and so is their Webwise product. forever tainted by the malware that Phorm (nee 121Media) inflicted on so many PC users a decade and more ago?

So which ISPs have not yet declared their customers are entitled to secure and confidential communication traffic?

TalkTalk, as we know, ran their STalkSTalk activity May through to July this year (when customers found out and challenged it, forcing them to stop and claiming it is perfectly legal - where did we hear that before eh...? Yes, from Emma at BT!)

Then there is Virgin Media. Those guys have Webwise pages on their website still. How long before they realise they are the last UK ISP promoting the "advantages" of customers having their data packets opened and inspected. Advantages to whom?

An interesting quote recently on The Register: "If you are not paying for [the service] then you are not the customer. You are the product being sold". Come on Virgin, do not sit on the fence any more, take down your Webswise pages.

BT Webwise pages links (both now broken):
click here
click here

Virgin Media Webwise pages:
click here

Crown Prosecution Service link: "it is hoped a decision can be made in this case by the end of November 2010" click here

Source for much more on the above available to consumers here: click here

  timsmith259 00:35 29 Oct 10

tut tut to bt its their mess and their problem

  spuds 12:26 29 Oct 10

And the point is?.

  GANDALF <|:-)> 19:08 29 Oct 10

Oh no, paranoia again. If you feel soooo worried or miffed just stop using the Internet, you are not forced to use it and as a bonus you would not interminable rants about BT on here.

G

  bigsteveUK 21:37 29 Oct 10

timsmith259 > indeed. More to come on this story I think.

spuds > The point is simply to get information out there about a current IT related issue as the latest legal and political activities affect the the industry. It is the right place for this. There are consumers who are interested in ensuring their electronic communication is private and secure. People who are not interested can skip over it (except Gandalf it seems LOL). So, as it stands, it is worth consumers knowing Virgin Media have not ruled out Webwise and the first ISP to make the brave attempt at testing it out has quietly, finally, abolished it :)

Gandalf > Yawn. You are off topic. Not for the first time. Do not forget to leave your curtains/blinds open when it gets dark Gandalf. After all, according to you, only "paranoid people" concern thenmselves with privacy.

  dth 22:42 29 Oct 10

Good post. After the 'difficulties' that BT caused themselves I am surprised that any ISP would want to stick with "webwise" (love the name).

The Virgin quote made me smile:-

Webwise is designed to help customers avoid scam e-mails or websites while, at the same time, making sure the advertising they see matches more closely their specific areas of interest.

  Forum Editor 23:00 29 Oct 10

who are interested in ensuring their electronic communication is private and secure."

Of course there are, but they are fighting the wrong enemy if they think that a bit of web-page scanning by ISPs represents a major event in the story of personal privacy.

Despite attempts to build it into a major scandal this is a dead story isn't it?

  dms_05 09:19 30 Oct 10

FE - if my memory serves me well didn't the EU say they would take action against BT if the UK government (Via Ofcom I assume) didn't take any action?

  bigsteveUK 10:37 30 Oct 10

DMS_05 > Indeed. It is likely to cost our country millions. The fine will likely be a daily triggered fine, triggered daily until we actually have enforcement in the UK.

Forum Editor >
In your position you ought to be seen as someone with up to date knowledge of what is going on in the world of technology and the politics and social impacts of it.

I agree that because BT's activity with Phorm was 2 years ago it *could* be a "dead story". However, it is not. Until this week BT failed to completely acknowledge consumers' ultimate rights. The removal of the pages on their website this week is news because it brings to a close their marketing and PR position concerning the testing of the spyware system from Phorm. Until this week they publicly kept open the option to implement it.

Your words "a bit of web-page scanning by ISPs" suggest a rather limited knowledge of what has happened or what is planned. A "bit", if allowed to continue would turn into a "lot", or even "all the time, all of it".

It is not "dead" as you put it because in Westmister this week there was a lengthy debate which included more reference to Phorm and the BT Webwise stealth customer snooping. The debate also discussed the need for an enquiry into "The role of the internet and its relationship to individual liberty". I would also say it is a scandal that BT did what they did and have not been taken through courts for it... Why is a journalist punished for listening to communication (voicemails) of individual famous people but BT is not punished for doing the same to thousands of people? That does seem pretty scandalous.

I am aware some are not interested in privacy and they follow that somewhat stupid line of "If you've nothing to hide you've nothing to fear" but most of us DO actually take action to protect our privacy (see simple example above in my reply to Gandalf). MPs, footballers and pop stars have taken action too (on the voicemail issue).

Most of the UK population is slack about our online data sharing - often because we have not worked out the issues yet and publications like PC Advisor can help. This forum can help.

So in summary my post "Phorm Webwise - An historic Moment!" was made and is current because:

- Webwise finally been removed from BT's website "this week".

- After over two years, the Crown Prosecution Service have indicated (this week) they will likely make their legal action decision against BT/Phorm in November.

- Virgin Media, shamefully, continue to suggest they might implement Webwise on their website and they are the ONLY ISP in this country to do this.

- This remains of consumer interest when shopping around for a safe and secure link to the internet.

  Forum Editor 12:27 30 Oct 10

back in 2007, and I'm very well aware of the potential social and political impacts, so we'll have a little less of the patronising comments about what someone in my position ought to be seen as, thanks.

As for "Why is a journalist punished for listening to communication (voicemails) of individual famous people but BT is not punished for doing the same to thousands of people?" I'm surprised you can't see the obvious flaw there. BT has not been accused of listening to the voice-mails of thousands of people.

You seem oddly unable to decide about the issue of security. In one sentence you say that "most of us DO actually take action to protect our privacy" and then, in the very next paragraph you state, sweepingly, that "Most of the UK population is slack about our online data sharing - often because we have not worked out the issues yet"

Make up your mind - you can't have it both ways.

My experience is that some people are obsessed with personal privacy, and others couldn't give a hoot. In between those extremes lie the vast bulk of us who are reasonably well aware of the fact that it's up to us to protect our personal data when we're online, and we're increasingly aware of ways to do it. We've been dealing with online security issues for many years - both in the magazine and here, in the forum. When there's a real need to take action to advise our forum members and readers we do it.

The BT Phorm/Webwise saga has been running for several years, and although the final outcome is certainly of interest it isn't going to transform the way we view personal security on the internet.

  Forum Editor 12:44 30 Oct 10

The EU isn't taking action against BT - it has no grounds for doing so.

What has happened is that the EU has referred the case to the European Court of Justice. The matters for referral are:

1 That we have no UK authority which specifically regulates the interception of communications by private companies. They say this is in direct contravention of the EU eprivacy directive.

2. That our RIPA law does not have sufficient teeth to protect the general public. It was this law which guided the City of London Police when they investigated the BT Phorm trial. They decided that BT had reasonable grounds to believe that it had the consent of its customers to the conduct of the trial.

3. That RIPA provisions which only make "intentional" interception illegal are inadequate.

EU legislation requires all member countries to prohibit any unlawful interception regardless of whether it is committed intentionally or not.

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