September 30, 2008 | Becky Hogge
4 good reasons not to take part in the BT Webwise trial
Today, BT will start trials of Webwise, a technology which analyses your web surfing habits in order to serve you targetted ads. If you're a BT Total Broadband customer, you might be asked to consent to being part of this trial. Here are four good reasons not to.
- You gain nothing. BT is looking to profit from its deployment of behavioural targetted advertising technology, but you stand to gain very little. Unless the offer of "more relevant advertising" is something that holds a special promise for you, what you are getting in return for allowing BT to analyse your web surfing habits is an "anti-fraud" feature which is unlikely to give you anything more than the features already built into web browsers Internet Explorer 7 (available for free upgrade to existing Internet Explorer users) or Firefox 3 (also free) - or Opera (thanks for the tip, Glyn!).
- BT has already trialled Webwise on its customers - without telling you. BT are only asking for your consent now because the authorities that regulate data protection have told it it has to. BT already trialled Webwise - without asking your permission - in 2006 and 2007. That doesn't sound like a company you should trust to protect you and your family's privacy.
- BT are making you responsible for getting everyone who uses your computer to consent to being profiled by Webwise. The Government have told BT that in order for Webwise to conform to UK data protection laws, BT must seek the consent of everyone who uses an internet connection where Webwise is enabled. To get around this, BT have devised new terms and conditions for people who agree to trial Webwise that transfer this burden onto you.
- BT Webwise turns the web inside out. Competitiveness, universal access, and the transformative effects of the world wide web are all underpinned by the internet’s structure as a so-called "network of ends", and by internet service providers, like BT, adopting the role of a "mere conduit" of information. By intercepting communications between you and the websites you visit and using this information to target advertising at you, BT is compromising that role - becoming more like a television broadcaster than an internet service provider.
Concerned digital rights campaigners have fought a long and hard battle over Phorm, the technology used in BT Webwise. During this battle, it has become clear that there is no protection for UK citizens from corporations who wish to illegally intercept private communications for financial gain. Today it might look like campaigners have lost the battle against Phorm, but without their hard work, BT may not have been forced to ask your permission to take part in this trial at all - it could have simply assumed it.
If you'd like to find out more about how Phorm works, read this technical overview. If you would like to know more about the legal ramifications of Phorm, read this legal analysis. If you would like to get active, visit dephormation.org.uk and nodpi.org.
Previous posts on Phorm: