EC puts boot into UK over invasive ad platform

The European Commission is taking the UK to task over its usage of controversial behavioural advertising platform, Phorm.

The EC’s proceeding identifies several problems with the UK’s implementation of EU ePrivacy and personal data protection rules, in the wake of complaints from end users about their internet services provider’s usage of Phorm.

Phorm analyses users’ web surfing habits to determine interests and deliver targeted advertising on certain websites. In April 2008, UK incumbent BT admitted that it had tested Phorm in 2006 and 2007 without informing users involved in the trial. After a public outcry, BT then carried out an invitation-based trial of the technology in October and December of 2008.

As a result of complaints to the UK data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the police, the EC has expressed concern over structural problems in the way the UK has implemented EU rules ensuring the confidentiality of communications.

Under UK law it is an offence to unlawfully intercept communications, but the scope of this offence is limited to ‘intentional’ interception only and features a loophole allowing the interceptor ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ that consent to interception has been given. The Commission is also concerned that the UK does not have an independent national supervisory authority dealing with such interceptions.

As of this week, the UK has two months to respond to the EC’s concerns or risk being dragged before the European Court of Justice.

“Technologies like internet behavioural advertising can be useful for businesses and consumers but they must be used in a way that complies with EU rules. These rules are there to protect the privacy of citizens and must be rigorously enforced by all Member States,” said EU telecoms commissioner, Viviane Reding. “We have been following the Phorm case for some time and have concluded that there are problems in the way the UK has implemented parts of EU rules on the confidentiality of communications.”

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One comment

  1. Avatar Pete 15/04/2009 @ 10:06 am

    ‘Intentional interception’?

    The BT Trials were no accident. It was deliberate, malicious abuse of private and confidential telecommunications traffic.

    Snooping. Wiretapping.

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