As far as our legal experts can see there is no interception issue with our system and user consent will always be is always obtained. FIPR asserts – under a very narrow interpretation of RIPA – that although we obtain user consent, without the explicit consent of each website, there is an unlawful interception under RIPA.
We would point to the many important and valuable consumer internet services such as Gmail (Google Mail) or spam filters where data from one side of the “communication” is analysed for the purpose of showing ads or blocking spam. Under FIPR’s interpretation such services would be deemed illegal.
TechRadar: Is there a case for saying that the once altruistic vision of the internet as a platform for information sharing and discussion (Web 2.0) is under threat, and that instead it is just sliding towards becoming just one more vehicle for aggressive product placement and targeted advertising (Phorm, Beacon etc)?
Kent Ertugrul, Phorm: Certainly not. The Phorm system is one of the most important developments on the Web in recent times. People are used to advertising paying for services that they enjoy such as TV or newspapers and magazines. On the internet advertising has enabled companies to develop innovative services and make them available for free.
Better targeted advertising will we believe actually reduce the amount of ads that people see in the long run as advertisers are prepared to pay more for this type of service allowing websites to earn more from less ads. Also, as more money is spent in online advertising it will be re-invested in more of the content and products that people want – for free.
TechRadar: Sir Tim-Berners Lee recently spoke out against the concept of data mining by ISPs, arguing that internet access should be supplied in the same way that a public utility like water or gas is – i.e. without any ‘strings attached’. Would you agree that an increase in targeted ads technology and data mining by ISPs flies in the face of this?
Kent Ertugrul, Phorm: It’s a nice idea. But the history of the internet is that people aren’t really prepared to pay a fixed subscription for content when it comes down to it, and that model has been replaced by free services paid for by advertising.
It is commonplace for internet companies to use data to be able to tailor services better for users just as retail companies use data to try target promotional deals at the people who would actually like them. Where we differ is that we store no personal data.
TechRadar: Do targeted ads really add to ones overall experience of the internet by making it a more personalised experience? Could you understand how, for some people at least, the fact that the adverts have been ‘personalised’ only serves to make them even more intrusive?
Kent Ertugrul, Phorm: Surprisingly perhaps, the opposite is true. Research shows that the issue most people have with online advertising comes from the fact that much of it is irrelevant. When advertising can be targeted (eg music ads in music magazines; car ads in car magazines), people find it more useful and as such less of an irritation.
Rather than intrude and interrupt people’s surfing experience, the ads will be on subjects of real interest to people, which ultimately should serve to make people less frustrated with online advertising.
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