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Phorm launches data pimping fight back

CEO Kent Ertegrul on spyware, bullshit and opting-out

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Coming to America

But by adding any more entry points to a network you're inevitably adding more potential vulnerabilty, correct?

MB: I'm not sure. If it's as secure or more secure than the existing network it doesn't necessarily reduce the security, no.

KE: As far as our system is concerned, again, if you were to break in and get all the data there's nothing stored there. That's surely the best form of security you can have. It's not lock all the doors and windows, it's that there's nothing to steal.

But at the heart of all this is the trust issue that people have with you. They entered into a relationship with their ISP, not Phorm. You accept that concern?

KE: Yes, yes. That's why we're talking to you. The best way to find out whether to trust someone is to talk to them. If people come away from this interview thinking we're these slimy people, then we can't make an impact.

Putting aside the privacy stuff, how well do you think the ISPs have handled this announcement? Our readers have been getting some very confused responses from customer services.

KE: I think you're going to see them handle it very differently when they actually deploy. We've come out with this and it's caused controversy, but if we hadn't said anything, everyone would have said "wooo, secret plot", but the ISPs are the ultimate keeper of the relationship with their customer. They'd be stupid to mishandle that relationship.

When they actually deploy they'll message their customers in many different ways. When it launches the first thing you'll see is a browser window telling you it's switched on.

It'll be automatically switched on then?

KE: The conversation over opt-in/opt-out is blurred by the one about transparency. They want to always be aware about whether something is on or off.

So we're going to do something unprecedented, and you'll never see this anywhere. Which is, as they continue to browse periodically you're going to see in an ad space "Webwise is on" or "Webwise is off", so it's more like a feature. Frankly, it's bad business to have people feel like something is being forced on them. Google stores everything you search, but it never says, "look, by the way we're storing all this and we keep it for a year".

This is not about a bunch of flim-flam artists trying to push something on the public. We couldn't do that. It would be stillborn if we even tried. We're very happy to talk about how everything works and what it means.

Broadly speaking, do you think the profit squeeze that ISPs are suffering now has created the gap for you? It's interesting that it's the UK market that's first with this.

KE: It's not just the UK market, by the way. It's first but that doesn't mean we haven't been speaking to other ISPs in other countries for a very long time.

And it's a great commercial opportunity for them. It would be ridiculous to suggest this is ISPs setting up a non-profit to reduce the amount of advertising online. That's obviously not what's happening - this is a business. It happens to be something that corresponds to what consumers want, like most good businesses.

Long term, we believe if you're opted-out the experience you're going to get is quite crappy because you're going to get bombarded with ads. Of course, the ISPs benefit too from the additional revenue. That's not evil.

We're speaking to a number of very large ISPs and websites there. We're very optimistic in the US.

So what reaction are you getting in the US at the moment?

KE: Same thing, very positive. We're speaking to a number of very large ISPs and websites there.

But presumably the sensitivities are even greater there because of the ongoing net neutrality row? US ISPs are already under a lot of pressure.

KE: Net neutrality is fascinating. Basically, the websites are at opposite ends of the discussion. What Phorm does is make the ISP the greatest partner a website can have. We think this resolves the tension between websites and ISPs that is the function of net neutrality. It brings both onto the same side.

We're very optimistic in the US. ®

So there you have it, for now. Seems Phorm is here to stay. It has promised to keep talking, and respond to your concerns, so go ahead and post below in the knowledge Kent and co. are at least reading.

Bootnote

It's been noted at Vulture Central and by our commenters that the Phorm story finally blew up yesterday, with stories from The Guardian, The Telegraph, Radio 4, The Evening Standard, and gosh, even the BBC technology website.

The well-deserved exposure the issue now has is thanks to the way you, as discerning Reg readers, have gotten involved over the last two weeks. So bravo.

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