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Chinese telecoms giant furiously scrubs links to Phorm

Ad firm courts major router makers on comeback trail

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Huawei, the giant Chinese telecoms manufacturer, has deleted claims on its own website and by its staff that it is involved in a partnership with Phorm.

Nonetheless, the pair are working together, and Phorm is also integrating its behavioural advertising technology with Cisco routing gear as it courts ISPs outside the UK.

On Monday night, following inquiries by The Register, Huawei removed a page from its English language website that made repeated references to Phorm and the Open Internet Exchange, Phorm's controversial system for serving advertising based on monitoring of web users.

Phorm however confirmed it now has partnerships with Huawei and Cisco, who between them make the vast majority of equipment that runs the internet.

The Chinese firm's page is still available today via the Bing cache.

Formerly hosted as part of its marketing to ISP customers, under the heading "business optimization and value-adding", it says: "Huawei iTarget solution smartly correlates user behaviors with advertisers' demands, constructing an intelligent Internet."

"Based on Open Internet Exchange (OIX), carriers build a bridge between site owners and advertisers, and become the core of a brand-new value chain."

Also on Monday night, Jason Ding, a China-based marketing manager at Huawei Symantec, a security joint venture, deleted a reference to Phorm on his LinkedIn profile. It had said he worked for a year until April this year on a "joint venture" with the London-based firm.

In a statement on Tuesday, Huawei appeared to further distance itself from Phorm.

"Huawei and Huawei Symantec do not have any joint ventures with Phorm and do not cooperate with Phorm or use any technologies from Phorm to provide product to individual subscribers or companies in the UK," it said.

"Regarding the staff profile you found on LinkedIn, the staff member apologises for publishing incorrect information on his personal profile – we would like to make it clear it is not representative of the company or its official policies."

However, when pressed, a spokeswoman admitted the denial applies only to the UK market, from which Phorm was forced to withdraw following a privacy outcry over secret trials of its technology by BT.

"We cannot exclude the possibility that in other parts of the world, telecom operators may have specific requirements on their networks which Huawei can not disclose because of business confidentiality," she said.

Phorm has kept its activities in China relatively quiet, preferring public statements on its efforts to launch network-level behavioural targeting to Brazil and South Korea. A lengthy profile in the Wall Street Journal last week said the technology is "on the verge of a comeback" but made no mention of Phorm's partnership in a country with 420 million internet users.

Yesterday it confirmed the deal, and also said it is working with Cisco, the world's largest manufacturer of ISP equipment.

"Phorm has a non-exclusive marketing relationship with Huawei Symantec, a joint venture company part owned by the communications technology company, Huawei, and the US security software vendor, Symantec," a spokesman said.

"Our system integrates with most of the leading vendors of telecoms equipment, including Huawei, one of the world's leading manufacturers, and Cisco, another one of the world's leading vendors.

"Such integration is designed to facilitate the placement of our system into an ISP's network and in no way provides access to any additional data to any third party, including our integration partners."

Claims to the contrary would be viewed as an intentional unjustified slur on the firm's reputation, it added.

Huawei's apparent sensitivity over the relationship is understandable. While it is not pursuing behavioural targeting in the UK, it is marketing its GreenNet security solution to ISPs, which relies on similar Deep Packet Inspection technology and is part of the same "business optimization and value-adding" group of products on its website.

TalkTalk, the UK's second largest ISP, is in the process of implementing GreenNet on its network. It faced criticism from the Information Commissioner earlier this year when it turned on part of the system, which follows browsers across the web and scans the pages they view for malware, without informing customers. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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