Here in the UK, there has been a pretty large storm about BT’s trials (and  proposed implementation) of the obnoxious Phorm system in which all users’ web browsing sessions are intercepted and data extracted in order to deliver targeted advertising.  A No 10 petition has collected a large number of signatories, and several websites have been set up to explain the problems associated with Phorm and to campaign against it.  See isphormlegal for example.

Over in the USA, a company called NebuAd have been playing the same game.  Working with several ISPs, they have been playing fast and loose with customer rights.  Now it seems the chickens may be coming home to roost. Ars Technica reports that a class action has been launched against NebuAd and its ISP collaborators. As Ars Technica reports:

The lawsuit accuses NebuAd, Bresnan Communications, Cable One, CenturyTel, Embarq, Knology, and WOW! of all being involved in the interception, copying, transmission, collection, storage, usage, and altering of private data from users. NebuAd “exploits normal browser platform security behaviors by forging IP packets, allowing their own JavaScript code to be written into source code trusted by the web browser,” reads the complaint. “NebuAd and ISPs together cooperate in this attack against the intentions of the consumers, the designers of their software, and the owners of the servers they visit.” 

Alex Hanff over at the excellent nodpi site has been waging a battle against Phorm and its stooges in BT.  His first attempts at getting the City of London Police to take action were stymied (as far as I can tell due to lack of technical understanding and a belief that – bizarrely – there had been no intent by BT to break the law), though there are signs he’ll be able take this forward via the DPP.

The recent news that a PlusNet customer had been presented with the BT Webwise invitation page was followed by assertions from BT (who own PlusNet) that this was a one-off occurrence.  Typically for BT’s ineptitude in the whole Phorm phiasco, it now appears that about 250 PlusNet customers were presented with this invitation.  Recall that the aim was to recruit 10,000 customers into this latest trial, and you’ve got to wonder about this level of incompetence.  The invitation itself is pretty deceitful in how it spins the benefits to the customer, and in how it presents the opt in/opt out alternatives.  Finally, BT continue to evade discussing Webwise with customers – discussions in their broadband forums are ghettoised into specific threads, questions are never answered, and comments on the heavy handed moderation are censored out.

Perhaps the US court action will galvanise the UK system to look more closely at Phorm/BT –  to date BERR, the ICO, Ofcom and other bodies have been tight with information release and not particularly interested in keeping an eye on the situation.