This article is more than 1 year old

The Phorm files

All yer data pimping news in one place

Updated We've had a busy time digging into the deals signed by BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse to report your browsing habits to Phorm, a new advertising company.

Here's the fruits of our labour, lovingly collected for your perusal. There are tales of the secret trials conducted on tens of thousands of BT customers without their consent, the time when Phorm branded El Reg unethical, and the story of how the Information Commissioner woke up... then went back to sleep.

We're updating it as we go, so this is the place to come to make sure you're up to speed.

ISP data deal with former 'spyware' boss triggers privacy fears
More than ten million customers of the UK's three largest ISPs will have their browsing habits sold to a company with roots in the murky world of spyware.

BT pimped customer web data to advertisers last summer
BT’s servers were secretly passing data on subscribers to its "new" advertising partner as long ago as last summer, though the companies refused to acknowledge any relationship at the time.

Broadband big boys waiting on data pimping
Phorm, the advertising company that wants to pay your ISP to hand over information on which websites you visit, has convinced the UK's three largest providers to trust it, but regulators and the rest of the industry are less impressed.

How Phorm plans to tap your internet connection
Internal BT documents obtained by The Register for the first time provide solid technical information on how data from millions of BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse customers will be pumped into a new advertising system.

Data pimping: surveillance expert raises illegal wiretap worries
A leading expert on computer surveillance has raised serious doubts over the legality of deals by BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse to sell their customers' web browsing data to Phorm, a new online advertising company.

BT targets 10,000 data pimping guinea pigs
BT is preparing to test Phorm's advertising targeting technology on 10,000 of its customers this month, to gauge people's reaction to their web browsing being exploited for extra revenue.

Phorm launches data pimping fight back
We interview Phorm's CEO and technology chief.

Dear ISP, I am not a target market
A comment on why Phorm's privacy guarantees don't change the forces at play.

Phorm shares tank as US braces for privacy storm
Investors deserted ISP ad targeting firm Phorm yesterday, sending its stock plummeting 35 per cent on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Top security firm: Phorm is adware
In a fresh blow to its hopes of winning consumer acceptance, a top three anti-malware firm has said it will very likely include Phorm's targeting cookies in its adware warning database.

Security firms split over Phorm classification
Security firms are split about whether they will classify Phorm's targeting cookies as adware.

BT confesses lies over secret Phorm experiments
BT has admitted that it secretly used customer data to test Phorm's advertising targeting technology last summer, and that it covered it up when customers and The Register raised questions over the suspicious redirects.

Net think tank: Phorm is illegal
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), a leading government advisory group on internet issues, has written to the Information Commissioner arguing that Phorm's ad targeting system is illegal.

Phorm agrees to independent inspection of data pimping code
Phorm has agreed to allow an independent software expert to inspect its source code as it continues to battle the firestorm provoked by agreements with BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse to let it build profiles of their broadband customers' web browsing.

The Guardian ditches Phorm
The Guardian has pulled out of its targeted advertising deal with Phorm, following a public outcry over plans for the UK's three largest ISPs to report the browsing habits of their customers in exchange for a cut of revenues.

MPs pile pressure on ISPs over Phorm
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has written to the chairman of BT asking him to explain his firm's secret trial of Phorm's advertising technology last summer.

BT and Phorm secretly tracked 18,000 customers in 2006
BT secretly intercepted and profiled the web browsing of 18,000 of its broadband customers in 2006 using advertising technology provided by 121Media, the alleged spyware company that changed its name to Phorm last year.

FIPR: ICO gives BT 'green light for law breaking' with Phorm
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has slammed the Information Commissioner Office's (ICO) for glossing over doubts over the legality of Phorm's advertising targeting in its public statement on the controversial company.

Phorm admits 'over zealous' editing of Wikipedia article
Phorm has admitted that it deleted key factual parts of the Wikipedia article about the huge controversy fired by its advertising profiling deals with BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse.

Information Commissioner: Phorm must be opt-in only
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued a major revision to its statement on Phorm, insisting that the ad tracking system must be deployed on an opt-in basis to comply with the law.

American ISPs already sharing data with outside ad firms
Multiple American ISPs are sharing customer data with outside firms that deal in so-called behavioral ad targeting, and according to one of these firms, the Silicon Valley-based NebuAd, roughly 10 per cent of all US web surfers are affected.

BT's 'illegal' 2007 Phorm trial profiled tens of thousands
BT's covert trial of Phorm's ISP adware technology in summer 2007 involved tracking many thousands more customers without their knowledge than previously reported, it's emerged.

BT's secret Phorm trials open door to corporate eavesdropping
The government has refused to investigate BT's covert wiretapping of thousands of its customers in 2006 and 2007, despite its own expert's view that without consent Phorm's advertising targeting technology is a breach of criminal law.

Home Office defends 'dangerously misleading' Phorm thumbs-up
The Home Office today defended advice it gave BT and Phorm that their "Webwise" agreement to track millions of broadband subscribers will probably be legal if consent is obtained.

Anti-Spyware Coalition probes data pimping
The Anti-Spyware Coalition has launched a review of Phorm, NebuAd, and other behavioral targeting firms that track user data from inside the world's ISPs.

Virgin Media distances itself from Phorm 'adoption' claims
Virgin Media today sought to publicly clarify its relationship with Phorm, amid concerns that spin from the controversial ISP adware company has worried many of its customers.

Phorm in phormulaic logo phorm storm
It's come to our attention that "pimp my data" outfit Phorm may not have been as ground-breakingly creative as we'd have expected when knocking together its logo.

Activist coders aim to deafen Phorm with white noise
Coding activists have developed an application designed to confound Phorm's controversial behaviour-tracking software by simulating random web-browsing.

US Congress questions legality of Phorm and the Phormettes
After telling the world it will soon pimp customer data to NebuAd - a behavioral ad targeting firm along the lines of Phorm and Front Porch - Charter Communications has received a letter from Congress questioning the legality of such pimping.

Phorm opponents to picket BT shareholders
Opponents of BT's involvement with Phorm will protest outside its annual general meeting in London in July in a bid to alert investors to alleged wiretap law-breaking.

EU mulls intervention over BT's secret Phorm trials
The European Commission is considering intervening over the failure of UK data watchdogs to punish BT for the way it secretly co-opted tens of thousands of customers into trials of Phorm's profiling system to serve them targeted advertising.

Phorm failed to mention 'illegal' trials at Home Office meeting in 2007
The Home Office held a private meeting with Phorm in August last year, but BT's interception and profiling partner did not disclose that it had completed an allegedly illegal trial of its technology on tens of thousands of unwitting broadband subscribers just weeks earlier.

EU tells UK to deal with Phorm - or else
The European Commission has sent a message to the British government, and it reads something like this: "If you don't deal with Phorm, we will."

Phorm papers reveal BT's backwards approach to wiretap law
BT's long-held claim that legal advice said its Phorm trials did not breach wiretapping laws came under renewed scrutiny today, as documents revealed the firm approached government experts after it had secretly co-opted 18,000 broadband customers into the advertising targeting system. misses deadline on EU Phorm probe
The government has failed to meet a deadline to respond to European Commission questions over the UK's handling of BT's allegedly illegal secret trials of Phorm's ISP-level adware and its planned rollout of the system to millions of subscribers, The Register has learned.

Phorm: Our business is fine, honest
After its share price slumped to a new low, Phorm today sought to allay investor fears about the ISP-level adware business by repeating assurances that a critical third trial with BT will go ahead.

Police quiz BT on secret Phorm trials
City of London police questioned BT earlier this week as part of a probe into the covert wiretapping and profiling of the internet use of tens of thousands of BT customers during tests of Phorm's adware system.

BT's secret Phorm trials: responds
The European Commission is analysing the government's explanation of why UK authorites have taken no action over BT and Phorm's allegedly illegal broadband wiretapping and ad targeting experiments in 2006 and 2007.

Police drop BT-Phorm probe

City of London Police have decided not to formally investigate BT and Phorm for their allegedly illegal secret ISP-level adware trials, arguing that there was implied consent from customers and it would be a waste of public money.

Phorm mulls incentives for ad targeting wiretaps

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.

Is Hitwise in the Phorm biz?

Front Porch – a Silicon Valley startup offering a Phorm-like online ad system – has sued several companies for patent infringement, including NebuAd, Hitwise, and Microsoft.

BT's third Phorm trial starts tomorrow
BT will invite thousands of its broadband subscribers to voluntarily participate in a third trial of Phorm's advertising targeting system starting tomorrow, the two firms said this morning.

Phorm losses shoot up by half
Phorm made a loss of $24.7m (£13.8m) in the first half of 2008 as it fought privacy advocates, lobbied to get politicians on side and tried to overcome technical problems dogging its ISP adware system.

BT's Phorm small print: It's all your fault
BT subscribers who are invited to take part in its new trial of Phorm's internet monitoring and advertising system will be responsible for telling anyone who uses their computer that they could be being tracked online - whether they opt in or not.

Brussels bounces BT-Phorm quiz back to
The European Commission has again written to the government for an explanation of UK authorities' response to BT's allegedly illegal secret trials of Phorm's ISP adware system.

CPS to consider private prosecution over stealth Phorm trials
The Crown Prosecution Service will examine evidence that BT and Phorm's stealth advertising targeting trials broke wiretapping laws, despite a recent police refusal to pass the case to prosecutors.

Orange ditches Phorm
Orange, the UK's sixth largest broadband provider, is not going to use Phorm's data-snooping technology.

More about

More about

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like