EC investigates Phorm

The European Commission has opened an infringement proceeding against the UK after a series of complaints by UK Internet users, and extensive communication of the Commission with UK authorities, about the use of a behavioural advertising technology known as ‘Phorm’ by Internet service providers.

The proceeding addresses several problems with the UK’s implementation of EU ePrivacy and personal data protection rules, under which EU countries must ensure, among other things, the confidentiality of communications by prohibiting interception and surveillance without the user’s consent. These problems emerged during the Commission’s inquiry into the UK authorities’ action in response to complaints from Internet users concerning Phorm.

“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. I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation on the confidentiality of communications. This should allow the UK to respond more vigorously to new challenges to ePrivacy and personal data protection such as those that have arisen in the Phorm case. It should also help reassure UK consumers about their privacy and data protection while surfing the Internet.”

Online shopping giant Amazon has already said it will not permit Phorm to scan its web pages to produce targeted ads. Amazon UK said: “We have contacted Webwise requesting that we opt-out for all of our domains.”

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