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Phorm mulls incentives for ad targeting wiretaps

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Phorm is considering tugging on ISP subscribers' heartstrings by offering to donate to charities if they opt to let it profile their internet use for advertisers.

The idea is one of more than a dozen possible incentives being punted in a survey running on the market research site Toluna.com. The questionnaire probes attitudes to "Webwise", the consumer-friendly branding it's planned Phorm's system will carry once switched on.

Other carrots suggested include:

  • An upgrade to a faster broadband package at no extra cost
  • £1 off monthly broadband bills
  • £1 cashback per month
  • A cut of advertising revenues
  • A free premium technical support line
  • Free music download vouchers
  • Free anti-virus software
  • Parental content controls

The current incentive planned by BT and Phorm for Webwise - checking URLs against a white label anti-phishing list - is also offered by the survey. Toluna users are also questioned about a potential feature called "Webwise Local" that would allow advertisers to target internet users based on their location.

A Phorm spokesman confirmed it was carrying out research into how it might improve its products. "It doesn't necessarily mean that we will introduce any particular product or feature," he said. "We're always looking at how we can improve things."

The Information Commissioner's Office said in April that to obey the law Phorm will have to get a positive opt-in from surfers. Analysts estimated BT's cut of targeted advertising revenues could hit £85m annually, so there's plenty of motivation and opportunity for ISPs to add extra inducements to click the "OK" button.

However implementation of any new consumer-facing Webwise features is likely to be a long way off. Currently Phorm's system remains mired in legal controversy over two secret trials, and technical problems which have delayed a third test with BT subscribers for more than six months. ®

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