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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fighting for on-line privacy

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokeswoman Baroness Sue Miller, has raised some very serious questions about the relationship between the controversial internet advertising firm Phorm and the Home Office.

The BBC report that Phorm serves up adverts related to a user's web browsing history that it monitors by taking a copy of the places they go and search terms they look for. Adverts related to that history are put on any websites that have signed up to use Phorm.

So far BT has signed up to use the system, and carried out a series of trials, some of which were conducted without the consent of its users, sparking an outcry among privacy advocates.

The European Commission has also separately started legal action against the UK over the use of Phorm.

E-mails from legal representatives of Phorm released under the FOI Act show the company repeatedly asking the Home Office if it "has no objection to the marketing and operation of the Phorm product in the UK".

The Home Office has previously denied that it has provided "any advice to Phorm directly relating to possible criminal liability for the operation of their advertising platform in the UK".

However, e-mail exchanges over a series of months between the department and the firm show the Home Office asking the firm what it thinks of the advice it is drawing up in relation to behavioural targeted advertising, and making specific reference to Phorm's technology.

Baronness Miller said: "The fact the Home Office asks the very company they are worried is actually falling outside the laws whether the draft interpretation of the law is correct is completely bizarre."

"I couldn't be more surprised [that] the very department drawing up policy to protect people's privacy is being that cynical.

"Anything the Home Office now says about Phorm is completely tainted."


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