News articles based on a survey indicating public opposition to Phorm's web snooping and advertising system have been withdrawn after the firm made legal threats to their publishers.
The independent consumer watchdog Which? sent a press release to newspapers earlier this week entitled "Internet users say: Don't sell my surfing habits". It detailed survey findings that UK internet users are opposed to plans by BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to monitor and profile their browsing in collaboration with Phorm.
The findings contradicted market research repeatedly cited, but not published, by Phorm that the majority of people want the more "relevant" web experience it claims its "Webwise"-branded technology will provide.
BT is much further along the route to rolling out the system than rival ISPs, having conducted two secret trials without customer consent in 2006 and 2007, and a third trial with consent at the end of last year.
The Which? survey was covered yesterday by the Press Association, Channel 4 News, The Telegraph, and The Daily Mail. The press release, however, was swiftly followed by this statement:
Urgent withdrawal of press release from Which? - Internet users say: don't sell my surfing habits
Which? has received further information and representations from Phorm about the proposed Webwise service, and it has agreed to withdraw the above press release, issued under embargo on 24 February 2008, while we consider them. Some of the information in the press release and related article is said to be inaccurate and as a consequence may be defamatory. You are strongly urged not to write an article based on the press release or the related article 'Online privacy matters' in Which? magazine.
The Press Association, Channel 4 News and Telegraph stories have all been removed (here, here and here). The Daily Mail has edited its story online to remove all references to the negative survey findings. A Which? spokeswoman declined to comment on what particularly in its press release had drawn Phorm's legal attack.
Phorm said its libel lawyers, who it declined to identify, were working with Which? to "correct" the press release. In the past Phorm has employed Schillings, a well known media law firm offering "reputation management" services.
A Phorm spokesman said that the survey had been based on inaccurate information and that the press release itself contained inaccuracies. "It repeatedly stated the Webwise system collects and sells on data which is misleading. We also wouldn't allow the creation of advertising channels on sensitive subjects such as for medical products," he said. ®