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BT to Commence Phorm Webwise Trials Tomorrow
By: MarkJ - 29 September, 2008 (8:40 AM)

BT has finally revealed its intention to commence technical trials of the controversial 'Webwise' (Phorm) advertising system tomorrow. The news was first revealed yesterday on BTs beta forum and contained the following information:

Invitations for the trial will be issued anonymously to a small proportion of BT's Consumer Broadband customers. For those who are invited to take part in the trial, a special webpage will appear in their web browser. This will give customers the opportunity to accept the invitation, decline it, or request more information. The trial will work on an 'opt-in' basis only - customers can only take part if they accept the invitation. To view a specimen invitation, please go to http://www.bt.com/webwise . Users are always in control of the system and can choose to switch it on or off as they wish.

The trial will run for a number of weeks and is a technical test is to confirm that the technology meets our expectations. We will make a further announcement prior to moving forward with the service.

Phorm works with ISPs to monitor what websites you visit for use in targeted advertising campaigns, though its methods have raised countless privacy and legal concerns. It's believed that a recent decision by the City of London Police (here) not to investigate BT's secret 2006/2007 trials of the technology have given the operator enough impetus to proceed.

The Police dropped hopes of a formal investigation after ruling that it would have been cost too much money, been too complex and those taking part in the trials were bizarrely deemed to have given their implied consent.

Presently the EU remains the only real obstacle to Phorm's progress, though their power over UK policy is limited and unlikely to cause any real trouble. Having said that, the UK would look rather silly if it allowed Phorm to precede, post any potential future EU ruling against it.

Meanwhile BT is expected to push Webwise as little more than a anti-phishing security enhancement, somewhat masking the reality. Roughly 10,000 customers are believed to be involved and the operator will confirm further details soon. Discussion on ISPreview has already started in THIS FORUM TOPIC.

It is not presently clear whether BT intends to keep inviting customers until it has reached 10,000 acceptances or send out 10,000 invitations and be done with it. We hope the latter because registering natural uptake of the system should be essential.

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