UK government gives okay to Phorm

Phorm - not popular
Phorm - not popular

The UK government has given the go-ahead to controversial ad-serving program Phorm, which tracks internet surfing to provide more targeted advertising.

The European Union has already expressed its doubts over the legality of Phorm – which has been trialled by the likes of BT without permission from its customers.

However, the UK government's response has been that the trials can continue, as long as overt permission has been granted from those that are tracked by the service.

"Users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise choice about whether to be involved," said a statement to the EU.

"Users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme."

EU response on the way

The office of EU Information Commissioner, Viviane Reding – who raised the query over the legality of the service – has indicated that a response and legal assessment are being prepared.

The government's decision was compiled by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr).

"After conducting its enquiries with Phorm the UK authorities consider that Phorm's products are capable of being operated in a lawful, appropriate and transparent fashion," said a Berr statement to the BBC.

Phorm currently identifies users with a unique ID rather than an IP address or location which could pinpoint exactly who they are – and this appears to be the crux of the matter for Berr.

Of course, the security of this information and the potential breach of privacy should the unique IDs be connected with other data remains a major question for many.

Further trials on the way

BT is already planning a further trial of the technology in the summer, and may be joined by the likes of Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse, which are both assessing the situation.

"There is a good economic argument for it and it can help fund better content and services," said a Phorm spokesman.

But will users be keen to give their consent for a company to compile records of their surfing habits? It remains to be seen.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.