Category Archives: Radar

BT in data privacy row

BT have hit the news bigtime recently over their shady deals with Phorm, a company which appears to have a shady past that many allege involves spyware. There’s a good overview on The Register. Essentially what seems to be proposed is that BT Broadband subscribers internet browsing habits will be forwarded to Phorm, who run an advert server called OIX. Web pages which use OIX to serve up adverts will then aim adverts at you based on this information. Sounds creepy? Well it is.There are several issues here:

1. BT trialled this last summer, an act they are loath to admit to.

2. BT are setting this up as an “opt-out” system.

3. BT are pushing this as a benefit to their customers as it will cut down on phishing sites and target adverts. They are calling this “webwise” – see the webwise page.

4. Opt-out status is held via a cookie. Clearing your PC’s cookies will opt you back in.

5. It seems as though opting out does not actually stop your private data being transmitted, and merely stops the ad targeting. There are differing accounts here – the webwise page states:

If you switch it off, BT Webwise will no longer collect any data from the web pages that you visit, meaning we will not provide anti-fraud warnings and the adverts you see online will not be tailored to your interests.


However the routing of web pages may still happen.

Phorm claim that the system is properly anonymised. I don’t trust them. BT have amended their privacy policy to enable them to sell off your browsing habits. Comments on the Register article suggest that this practise may well contravene the Data Protection Act.

There are at least three ISPs who’ve signed up with this dodgy business: BT, Virgin and Carphone Warehouse. Personally, I’ve been with BT Broadband for several years now, but almost certainly for not much longer (unless I can figure our how to spike this nefarious business).