BT: 'We did not let anyone down over Phorm... it was not illegal'

Director escapes grilling on BBC Breakfast


Updated BT Retail wheeled out Emma Sanderson, its "director of value added services", on BBC Breakfast today to account for its secret profiling and targeting of credit card advertising to 18,000 of its customers using Phorm technology in 2006.

She parroted the same line we've been hearing from BT since the 2007 secret trial was revealed: that no information was divulged, and that people were completely anonymous. You can watch the interview here.

Sanderson said: "We don't believe this is illegal. We have sought extensive advice, both internally and externally, and prior to conducting this trial... um... yeah? It's not illegal.

"Customers absolutely can trust BT, and I'm here to reassure them that, y'know, this is a service that is looking to provide them with an improved browsing experience. We have not let our customers down.

"We do not know whether they were participating in the trial or not... it should reassure them."

This is all moving fast, so here's a handy cut-out and keep guide to BT's current position:

  • BT has not apologised.
  • BT has not said why it believes its actions were lawful.
  • Unlike Carphone Warehouse, BT has not committed to making the system opt-in only.
  • BT has not made any effort to inform the people it spied on what happened, claiming it doesn't know who they were.
  • BT has not commented on the role played in the deal by Stratis Scleparis, the BT Retail CTO who became Phorm CTO after the first successful secret trial.

We requested an interview with a BT executive who can answer to the concerns of thousands of the firm's paying customers on Monday, and received no response.

Here's what chief press officer Adam Liversage had to say today: "I have sent you a statement which answers the questions you have asked. We don't feel it's appropriate to offer [The Register] an interview."

Here's the statement he's referring to:

BT can confirm that a small scale technical test of a prototype advertising platform took place for two weeks during September - October 2006. The purpose of the test was to evaluate the functional and technical performance of the platform.

It is important for BT to ensure that before any new technologies are deployed, they are robust and fit for purpose. No personally identifiable information was processed, stored or disclosed during this test.

Here's the questions he says it answers, sent in an email on Friday 28 March:

Which exchange were the 18,000 test subjects connected to?

Given the facts that the Home Office advice is that the technology would only be legal under RIPA if consent is obtained, and no consent was obtained from the 18,000 test subjects, does BT believe that this trail was a legal act? If so, why?

Is BT comfortable with the role played by Stratis Scleparis, who was CTO of BT Retail during the trials, and is now CTO of Phorm?

We argued today that BT's statement does not answer our questions and asked why it thinks it is not appropriate to explain its actions to its customers. "We're going to have to beg to differ," was the response from Liversage. ®

Bootnote

Friends tell us BT will get a grilling on Channel 4 News today.

Update

The Channel 4 interview is available here (scroll down).

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