Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Phorm: like a human organ farm for advertisements

While I'm busy being outraged, here's something interesting I found today, a BBC article discussing a new advertising company called Phorm.

This is the rub:

Phorm works by connecting a users' web surfing habits to a series of advertising channels in order to target adverts.

Keywords in websites visited by a user are scanned and connected to advertising categories, and then matched to particular adverts.

It means a user who has been visiting web pages with lots of references to cars, for example, could then see adverts for cars when visiting a website that has signed up to Phorm's service.

So basically it builds up a profile of your browsing habits while essentially snooping on you, then presents you with targeted advertisements.

If that's starting to sound a little evil, then here comes the clincher: it uses anonymous ISP data, that is, information taken from the ISP -- you don't have to install anything on your computer.

But it's opt-in, which is good... and they don't store or personalise any data, which is good... however to sweeten the deal (and to make ISPs possibly start to require it for their subscribers), they add in a bunch of useful things like phishing and fraud protection.

It could, however, be illegal, because it's intercepting information between the ISP and the user. But IT specialist Alexander Hanff went one step further:

"What Phorm is trying to do is to turn people into products - a global warehouse selling pieces of us to the highest bidders."

I'm really not sure how to feel about this one, except for a vague sense of uneasiness, because this is almost like a lime cordial maker paying the water company to put lime cordial directly into the pipelines that go to peoples' houses. And that makes me a bit upset.

1 comment:

Nick said...

that's a bit eeeeevil. Opt-in is fine, but it's really easy to see how this is going to progress. The thing I like about the Internet is that I can do all my advertising myself: If i want something, I'll go find it. Google's personalised ads I'm fine with, but this is a bit icky. I don't mind people looking at what I access, I just don't want to be inundated with ads that target my interests. I'm quite capable of finding information on my interests on my own, thank you very much.

More to the point, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the increasing number of automated, invasive, `personalised services' on the net. Because it's not personalised: it's constructed based on a number of general characteristics that manifest on the net.