17 September 2008

Phorm is being rolled out.

The Government has stated that Phorm, the online ad system, will be rolled out in the UK. Avid readers of CyberPanda will remember that this issue was covered earlier this year when the EU questioned the lawfulness of Phorm especially in the context of data protection laws. The EU asked the Government to clarify the manner in which the system tracked the web habits of net users.

The Government has now clarified the manner in which the tracking will be done. In a nutshell, trials of the tracking will only be done with the consent of the net users being tracked. In the words of the Government to the EU: 'Users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise choice about whether to be involved. Users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme (my emphasis).'

The Office of the Information Commissioner has already issued its response to this statement and is in the process of analysing the reply as well as undertaking a legal assessment of the situation in the UK. So the situation is far from being resolved. It seems that the better solution would have been for the UK government to wait for the response of the Commissioner before proceeding to roll out the system here.

Phorm argues that the system is legal: profiles of the users are created on the unique ID of the user rather than the identity of the user. Phorm also argues that it does not have any information which would enable it to link the user ID to the user. One still wonders what the ID of the user reveals about the identity of the user. Surely it must contain some unique characteristic of the user in question.

Another issue is the legality of the trials which were carried out without the consent/knowledge of the net users before the EU intervened. Police investigation is currently been carried out on this matter following several complaints by tracked users, so this matter is also pending.

Phorm raising a series of complex legal and commercial issues including data protection, rights of other content owners and privacy and the Government should have awaited the final determination by the EU before proceeding forward with the launching of the project here. But yet again, it seems to be a situation of act now and take it down later if it offends.
Disclaimer: The rights to the logo used above belongs to Phorm.

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