Feeds

Anti-Spyware Coalition probes data pimping

Phorm and the Phormettes

Boost IT visibility and business value

The Anti-Spyware Coalition has launched a review of Phorm, NebuAd, and other behavioral targeting firms that track user data from inside the world's ISPs.

Today, the ASC - a collection of anti-spyware companies, academics, and various consumer advocates - announced a new internal working group to decide how Phorm and the Phormettes will affect the organization's overarching policies on spyware.

These policies serve as guidelines for the leading anti-spyware apps. "We update our documents when a new potential threats and new potentially-unwanted technologies emerge," says Ari Schwartz, the vice president and chief operating officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology, which first organized the ASC. "Some [anti-spyware companies] have said that behavioral advertising is a gray area when it comes to the ASC definitions. And if some people think this a gray area, it's something we need to look at."

Through partnerships with ISPs on both sides of the Atlantic, companies such as Phorm, NebuAd, and Front Porch track search and browsing activity in an effort to target online ads. Phorm and NebuAd serve up ads on their own, while Front Porch licenses its data to third-party ad networks.

In some cases, anti-spyware tools already flag the ad-server cookies laid down by the likes of Phorm and NebuAd - as well as cookies used by Front Porch partners. The big question is how the cookies should be flagged.

"We need to go into detail on how the consent factors work here. Does someone clearly know they're being tracked or not?" Schwartz says. "We must determine what level of risk is tied to these things."

All three of these behavioral ad firms insist the data they collect includes no personally identifiable information. But it's unclear whether users are properly notified before these services are turned on.

NebuAd says that ISP partners are required to "directly notify" users via letter or email, but this hasn't always happened in the past. In some cases, Front Porch notifies users with a conspicuous in-browser message. But in other cases, it does not.

Phorm hasn't officially rolled out its service, but it has agreements with BT, Carphone Warehouse, and Virgin in the UK (though Virgin insists this does not mean it will actually use the service). Carphone has said it will ask for user consent before turning Phorm on, but the others have not. In 2006 and 2007, Phorm conducted trials on BT's network without telling customers diddly.

Other operations that appear to be working on similar services include a Bay Area company called Adzilla; and Project Rialto, a "stealth company" created by Alcatel-Lucent, but these firms have not responded to our interview requests. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Déjà vu: Virgin Media jacks up broadband prices
Screw copper phone lines, we're UNIQUE, bleats telco
NBN Co claims 96 mbps download speeds for FTTN trial
Umina trial also delivers 30 mbps uploads, but exact rig used not revealed
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
EE: STILL Blighty's best mobe network, says 'Frappucino' Moore
Fresh round of network stats fisticuffs possibly on the cards here
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
ROAD TRIP! An FCC road trip – Leahy demands net neutrality debate across US
You crashed watchdog's site, now time to crash its ears
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?