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Anti-Phorm Protests Overshadow BT's AGM Today
By: MarkJ - 16 July, 2008 (9:55 AM)

BT's Annual General Meeting (AGM), which is being held at the London Barbican Centre today (doors open 9:30 am), looks set to be overshadowed by protestors campaigning against the operatorís use of a controversial advertising system - Phorm (WebWise).

Phorm works with ISPs to anonymously monitor the websites you visit for development of targeted advertising campaigns. It is often promoted as being a security improvement, though many have objected to how it would be implemented by ISPs and fear that privacy is being put at risk.

Naturally Phorm itself rejects the claims as only stemming from a small minority of privacy advocates, which is a view that protest organiser and legal professional Alexander Hanff is keen to dispel:

"We are expecting a strong turnout and Baroness Miller (along with a few other people) will be speaking at the event during the 12-2pm period. There is expected to be a significant press and media presence at the event," Hanff told ISPreview.co.uk .

"Last week I had a meeting with Earl of Northesk in the House of Lords, an audio recording of which is available on the NoDPI web site. During the discussion he agreed with the concerns of the public and my own concerns ... and stated the DPA needs to be completely recast in order to bring it up to date with modern technology such as intrusive advertising systems."

"We welcome anyone in the London area to attend the protest which will be peaceful and fliers with information will be handed out to the general public. We also have a number of protesters who are BT shareholders and who will be expressing their concerns in the BT AGM. We will be gathered around the Silk Street entrance to the Barbican and will be hard to miss."

Typically there are other UK ISP's involved with Phorm, although both TalkTalk and Virgin Media have continued to be somewhat vague with their plans, perhaps preferring to let BT take the heat instead. Certainly BT's own 'WebWise' implementation has caused more than a few gripes, which Hanff elaborates on below:

"WebWise as it currently stands is ILLEGAL and uses an Opt-Out system which is contrary to the requirements of law which state the system must be Opt-In and must obtain explicit informed consent. The anti-phishing technology which Phorm have bolted onto the service to try and sweeten the deal is redundant as it uses the same mechanisms as modern browsers and antivirus technologies."

"Furthermore, due to the fact that the Phorm WebWise system cannot see HTTPS data, it will not work against the majority of modern Phishing Attacks which use HTTPS in order to bypass exactly these type of systems."

However, BT will be hoping that the main talking point among shareholders today is its new fibre broadband rollout plans and not Phorm. Though Hanff warns BT that todayís protest will not the be the last and plans are already afoot for something similar outside of TalkTalks AGM this month:

"I can assure you we are just getting started. After Wednesday the campaign goes up a gear and will not rest until we have official statements from all of the 3 ISPs in talks with Phorm and the Public Authorities (ICO, Home Office) stating that Phorm or other such technologies will never deployed in the UK," concluded Hanff.

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