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Phorm moves beyond privacy - except when slating rivals

Emotive statements blow City Town Hall wide open

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Phorm wheeled out its new chairman last night - the former Tory chancellor Norman Lamont - to steward the second town hall meeting since it leapt out of stealth mode and straight into a privacy firestorm just over a year ago.

And what a year it's been. After relentless pillorying in the press, the one-time pariah's reputation has been reassessed, and he can justifiably point at others whose records deserve far more criticism than his. In short, it's time to move on.

That is, of course, Norman Lamont we're talking about. Meanwhile, Phorm boss Kent Ertugrul must be hoping it won't take him 17 years to pull off the same stunt as his non-exec chairman.

Appropriately, Ertugrul kicked off the town hall meeting at the London School of Economics with a crash course in media studies. Phorm's opponents, he claimed, had developed a predictable pattern. Its detractors started with an "emotive statement", eg Phorm is illegal. Haters will then "create a story and cover it yourself, creating a lot of "noise". When the real facts (should that be phacts?) emerge, and the story is disproved, the haters simply move on to another "emotive statement", Ertugrul claimed, and the cycle begins again.

All the time, these emotive story tellers are ignoring Phorm's work in setting the "gold standard" in privacy for the internet advertising industry, said Etrugrul, declaring "the legitimacy and gold standard privacy is pretty much beyond doubt.”

“On the privacy issue,” he added, “we'll continue to listen but it's a long time since anything factual has been brought up."

In fact, Ertugrul and the other Phorm execs were adamant that it was "time to move on" on the privacy issue.

Except that no-one really wanted to. Not the audience at the Q&A, and certainly not Phorm, when it came to slamming a certain "large search engine" and other large vested internet interests for their record on privacy. These organisations are keeping the majority of web users in the dark about their storing of users' surfing habits, said Ertrugul, "so they don't even know they have a choice.”

Asked by a Guardian hack about recent suggestions from Facebook execs that users make their misgivings about Phorm known to their ISPs, Ertugrul said “I don't even want to go there.”

Ertugrul then bravely went there, saying that if users really object to Phorm, the company and its technology will simply fade away, “but I'm struck by the fact there's some people who seem to be quite intent on not understanding how our system works.”

Tech boss Marc Burgess reassured the audience that all the upcoming UK deployments will have “network level opt-out”, meaning dissenting users details will not go anywhere near Phorm's black boxes.

Not that this will necessarily be the case worldwide. Ertugrul said the firm was speaking to many ISPs, and it would be down to each of them to decide themselves what would be best for their users. They should have plenty of time to decide. Phorm last night appeared no closer to naming a date for when its technology will be rolled out in anger.

Presumably Facebook, a “large search engine” and others have simply succumbed to the emotive statements about Phorm that sections of the news media and the internet at large have been so busy rehashing over the last year, while ignoring the would-be ad broker's gold standard privacy stance.

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