Phorm- ein britischer Targeting Anbieter unter Beschuss

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Die britische Blogosphäre  erregt sich aktuell über den englischen Targeting Anbieter Phorm und seine Kooperation mit den großen britischen Internet- Providern. Der britische Anbieter, mit Büros in London und New York, analysiert die Userbewegungen im Netz, dabei registriert Phorm das Surfverhalten des Users, um ihn dann schließlich gezielt mit Werbung zu versorgen. Die englische Öffentlichkeit scheint diesem Dienst aber nicht sehr offen gegenüber zu stehen, denn Phorm setzt seine Analyse direkt auf der Seite der Provider, wie z.B. der Britisch Telecom ein, ohne dass der User dieses bemerken kann. Exemplarisch sollte hier ein Blogbeitrag auf openrightsgroup.org genügen:

Over the last few weeks, the story that BT, Virgin and TalkTalk are signed up to trial a new technology called Phorm, which tracks users’ online surfing habits in order to target ads at them, has caused a storm all over the internet…On top of this, question marks are beginning to appear over Phorm’s compliance with the law. Can ISPs’ employment of Phorm comply with the Data Protection Act? Is intercepting traffic in this manner an offence under section 1 of RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act)? The Information Commissioner has issued a statement (pdf) saying his office is making inquiries – but is this enough?

Der CEO von Phorm beschreibt seinen Service wie folgt:

What the profiler does is it first cleans the data. It's looking at two sets of information: the information in the request that's sent to the website and then information in the page that comes back. From the request it pulls out the URL, and if that URL is a well known search engine such as Google or Yahoo! it'll also look for the search terms that are in the request. And then from the information returned by the website, the profiler looks at the content. The first thing it does is it ignores several classes of information that could potentially be sensitive. So there's no form fields, no numbers, no email addresses (that is something containing an "@") and anything containing a title like Mr or Mrs…. So we do this basic cleaning process and then we take a look at the key words that have come from the page and we eliminate "noise words" that have a low intrinsic meaning. So what we're left with is a clean version of the key words in the page which we then basically do a chart of the ten most commonly occurring words.This process has the effect of largely eliminating personally identifiable information [PII] from the web page because it would have to contain PII that didn't match any of our criteria and also appeared repeatedly in the page.The profiler takes this "data digest" and it passes it through the box we call the anonymiser and into the box we call the channel server. The channel server has got a database of advertising categories that we call channels – things like sport, health and beauty, travel, luxury cars, etc. The channels are global to the whole system [across ISP networks]. Via the Open Internet Exchange advertisers are able to specify the channels they want to target.The channels are controlled in the content they can have. We don't have adult advertising, no medical channel, no tobacco, no gambling. The channels are also designed so they always match a minimum number of unique users – 5,000. A channel has to be sufficiently broad so that it doesn't just reduce to one or two users.As soon as that match has been made the data digest, which has only ever been in memory, is immediately deleted. It never goes to disk.

Im Zuge dieser hitzigen Diskussion schaltete sich nun auch der britische Internetpionier Tim Berners- Lee ein. Im Zuge seines Interviews mit der BBC ließ er verlauten:

Different people have different attitudes. I myself feel that it is very important that my ISP supplies internet to my house like the water company supplies water to my house. It supplies connectivity with no strings attached. My ISP doesn't control which websites I go to, it doesn't monitor which websites I go to. What would you feel if it wanted to do that? I would want to use an ISP that doesn't. I personally want to feel free. I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that's not going to get to my insurance company and I'm going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they've figured I'm looking at those books. What about your clickstream? It's mine – you can't have it. If you want to use it for something then you have to negotiate with me, I have to agree; I have to understand what I'm getting in return. Three major British internet providers are considering introducing a scheme which will in some way track people's web history. What would you say to those companies?I'd say if that was an option I wouldn't take it. If it wasn't an option, I would look for another ISP. My personal feeling about an ISP is that I want it to be a transparent connection. I don't want to have to think about the secondary implications of going to a site.

Der gesamte Diskurs veranlasste nun die britische Regierung das Vorgehen von Phorm und den britischen Internetprovidern eingehend zu untersuchen. Nach Angaben von Spiegel-Online hat mittlerweile die britische Telekommunikationsbehörde entsprechende Untersuchungen eingeleitet. Weiterer Gegenwind bläst dem britischen Unternehmen aus einer ganz anderen Richtung. Die Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), ein Think Tank aus Regierungsbehörden, Industrie und Wissenschaft bestehend, hat in einem offenen Brief ihren Zweifel an der Legalität des Angebots von Phorm geäußert.Die Diskussion um den englischen Anbieter scheint nicht ohne Folgen zu bleiben, zumindest reagierten die Anleger des Unternehmens sehr empfindlich. Der Preis der Phorm-Aktie sackte um fast 50% in den Keller.

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Anscheinend haben  Phorm und die großen britischen Internetprovider die Rechnung ohne den mündigen Konsumenten gemacht. Da hilft auch nicht der Erklärungsversuch des Phorm CEOs, dass der User schließlich eine Opt-out Entscheidung hätte. Eine Opt-in Möglichkeit wäre für den User sicherlich die bessere Alternative gewesen. Man darf gespannt sein, wie sich dieses Issue für Phorm entwickeln wird.

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