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Phorm 'looks at bribing UK internet users'

Controversial ad targeters to offer financial incentives

Controversial online advertising company Phorm is reported to be considering bribing users to sign up to its intrusive ad targeting technology.

A new media age report says that Phorm is "undertaking research to discover what kind of offers users would regard as valuable enough to sign up".

Promotions could include money off phone or broadband bills - first to BT customers, and then potentially Virgin Media and TalkTalk users.

Phorm tracks web users' surfing habits so relevant online adverts can then be targeted at them, but it faces growing opposition from civil liberties groups and web experts. Tim Berners-Lee and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) are among those that have slammed the system.

The idea of financial incentives follows the Information Commissioner's Office's (ICO) decision to require Phorm and ISPs to ask users to opt-in to stay legit.

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See also: Is Phorm's targeted ad system illegal?

CEO of the IAB Guy Phillipson told NMA that offering incentives would remove barriers for consumers. "It wipes away the barrier of people asking what's in it for them. It'd be very easy to test and quite easy to research."

However, Phorm has distanced itself from the report.

"It's speculation. We have never announced an incentive scheme," said a spokesperson for the company.

"Each of our ISP partners will decide how to present Webwise to their customers giving users a clear choice over their participation. Furthermore, consumer research demonstrates a strong demand from internet users for our current offer which improves their browsing experience by reducing the amount of irrelevant advertising they see and helping protect them from phishing online fraud."

BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse already have deals in place with Phorm.

Following a number of complaints about the trial, the Crown Prosecution Service is collecting evidence to establish whether BT illegally tested the Phorm online advertising system without users' consent.

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