Digital Privacy

EU Commission moves against UK Government and Phorm

The EU Commission has launched proceedings against the UK concerning Phorm, the intrusive behavioural advertising system. Campaigners, including Open Rights Group, have long argued Phorm is a gross invasion of internet users’ privacy because it illegally intercepts confidential material. Now that high-profile website operators are lining up to oppose Phorm, these proceedings seem to be the fatal blow for the system.

Following our call for intervention, the EU has implicitly recognised the system involves unlawful interception because it does not obtain permission from both the user and the website owner. The UK authorities consistently deny this claim, although its unclear precisely which part of Government is responsible for enforcing related legislation. Fortunately, the EU has also expressed concerns with procedure, which should ensure similar technologies receive proper scrutiny in future.

In response to our recent open letter calling for leading websites to opt out of the system and protect both user privacy and their own brand equities, high-profile operators like LiveJournal, Netmums and mySociety are choosing to block phorm. This new condemnation of Phorm adds further pressure to the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft to also opt out.

There are big legal questions surrounding BT’s use of Phorm, so we welcome the EU taking the government to task. It’s a pity our own government haven’t had more backbone and stood up for their voter’s rights.

BT should respect everyone’s privacy and drop their plans to snoop on the internet before they damage their own reputation further. Websites should protect their users and block Phorm now.