Open letter, sent to Chief Privacy Officers or equivalent at:
(i) Microsoft (ii) Google / Youtube (iii) Facebook (iv) AOL / Bebo (v) Yahoo (vi) Amazon (vii) Ebay
Dear Sir / Madam,
We are writing this open letter to you to ask you if you will act to protect your users' privacy.
We are asking you to exercise your ability to opt out of the Phorm system, that is planned to be rolled out in the near future under the "Webwise" brand by BT, Virgin and TalkTalk, the three largest UK ISPs.
You may already be aware of the very significant concerns being expressed by many of your UK Internet customers about the interception and processing of their data whenever it is viewed by customers whose ISPs deploy the Phorm/Webwise system.
This was recently highlighted in a widely reported meeting held in Parliament, hosted by Baroness Miller, at which Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, made a firm stand against technologies which 'snoop' on the Internet, because of the highly sensitive nature of those communications.
Further demonstrations of the worries about Phorm include over 21,000 members of the public signing a petition against Phorm’s deployment:
We believe that many of your customers will feel exactly the same way. They may be using other Internet providers, but the information they put on your website may well be viewed by them as personal, and they will not wish it to be read and stored by third party technologies.
Even where your customers are using Phorm / Webwise ISPs, we are entirely unconvinced that the information they are given will ensure that they give 'informed consent' to the processing of all the data they send to and receive from your website.
Additionally, you may have concerns of your own; that a third party will be processing the contents of your website, without asking your permission, in order to construct profiles of your customers.
You may already be aware of our view that the Phorm / Webwise system is illegal. Communications cannot be lawfully intercepted, as this system does, without the informed consent of both the sender and receiver. The system will make copies of copyright material without permission, a further unlawful activity. Also, by forging extra 'tracking' cookies in your name, it may well bring your own system into disrepute.
We strongly believe that it is clearly in your company's interest, it is in the interests of all of your customers, and it will serve to protect your brand's reputation, if you insist that the Phorm/Webwise system does not process any data that passes to or from your website.
You may well wish to reserve the right to take legal action on your own account. However, Phorm have announced an alternative and relatively simple way of taking action, in that it is possible to "opt out" of their system by simply sending an email to website-exclusion at webwise.com.
While we recognise that an "opt-out" is an entirely second-rate way of dealing with this problem, we would strongly urge you to take advantage of it, in order to immediately reduce the risk of harm to your company and to your customers.
Making your decision public will provide reassurance to your customers, and will help them retain confidence in your brand, as well as in the integrity of the Internet as a whole.
We therefore strongly urge you to exercise your ability to "opt out" as soon as possible, and declare publicly to us and to your customers that data sent to and from your website will not be snooped upon by the Phorm/Webwise system.
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Richard Clayton, Treasurer, Foundation for Information Policy Research