Feeds

BT's 'illegal' 2007 Phorm trial profiled tens of thousands

Hush-hush advertising experiment redefines 'small scale'

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

BT's covert trial of Phorm's ISP adware technology in summer 2007 involved tracking many thousands more customers without their knowledge than previously reported, it's emerged.

Erroneous reports earlier this month suggested that a total of 36,000 broadband lines had been eavesdropped upon during the two trials. The Register had revealed that 18,000 customers were profiled in 2006, but no figure was released for the second experiment.

Today Phorm said the 2007 trial was actually performed on "tens of thousands" of lines. It refused to provide a specific figure, but at the absolute least there are 38,000 BT Retail customers unaware their communications have been allegedly criminally intercepted in the last two years. The number could be as high as 108,000.

We asked a Phorm spokesman why it doesn't believe people have the right to know how likely it is they were part of a secret test. "We're just not going to disclose that," he said. "They were BT customers and you have to ask BT about that."

A BT spokesman refused to provide a figure.

Phorm's 2006 financial report, dated 24 April 2007, states that it was about to begin a trial with "hundreds of thousands" of ISP customers. The firm was referring to its second trial with BT, which took place in June of that year, and was immediately denied by the national telco.

BT's spokesman said the experiment was scaled back from hundreds of thousands because "that's how it panned out".

Phorm sent us this statement:

We confirmed in our 2006 Financial Statement that we had concluded the trial announced on 19 July 2006 and were about to start a larger trial in 2007. In reality, the 2007 test was actually smaller than was planned at the point this statement was issued. At its peak, it involved tens of thousands of users for a couple of days, not the several hundred thousand as anticipated.

Don Foster MP, a Liberal Democrat who has taken a lead in parliament over the Phorm controversy, has called on BT to reveal the details of its allegedly illegal action. Branding BT's role in the secret trials "disgraceful", he said: "It's time for BT to come clean about exactly what happened last summer and why customers were kept in the dark while they were used as guinea pigs."

Instead, Emma Sanderson, the BT Retail executive offered to television news for interviews last week parroted the line that no personally identifiable information had been disclosed. She said the tests were "small scale".

BT has claimed that it has no way of telling which of its customers it Phorm profiled and served targeted advertising to. However, it's known that people in Weston-super-Mare were among those co-opted into BT's bid to gouge extra advertising revenues from their broadband subscription. Documents seen by The Register suggest that Phorm tests were performed at exchange level.

Phorm and BT say their lawyers told them the trials were legal, but won't say why.

A third trial is imminent, on 10,000 lines. BT says it's going to ask this time. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Of COURSE Stephen Elop's to blame for Nokia woes, says author
'Google did have some unique propositions for Nokia'
FCC, Google cast eye over millimetre wireless
The smaller the wave, the bigger 5G's chances of success
It's even GRIMMER up North after MEGA SKY BROADBAND OUTAGE
By 'eck! Eccles cake production thrown into jeopardy
Mobile coverage on trains really is pants
You thought it was just *insert your provider here*, but now we have numbers
Don't mess with Texas ('cos it's getting Google Fiber and you're not)
A bit late, but company says 1Gbps Austin network almost ready to compete with AT&T
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.