Phorm on defensive

The UK Home Office has been accused of colluding with online ad firm Phorm on “informal guidance” to the public on whether the company’s service is legal. E-mails between the ministry and Phorm show the ministry asking if the firm would be “comforted” by its position. The messages show Phorm making changes to the guidance sought by the ministry.

The Home Office said “We have repeatedly said since these documents were released a year ago that the Government has not endorsed Phorm or its technology. We are committed to protecting the privacy of UK consumers and will ensure any new technology of this sort is applied in an appropriate and transparent manner, in full accordance with the law and with proper regulation from the appropriate authority.”

The e-mail exchanges were released under a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request. The exchanges between the Home Office and Phorm date back to August 2007, in which the ministry asks the company for more information about the technology following a request made by Phorm for a view on its technology.

The Home Office has said previously that exchanges were about helping the department understand “public safety considerations and legal obligations” about behavioural advertising in general.

Meanwhile, Phorm has launched a website to explain how its ‘Webwise’ service tracks users’ online surfing habits and delivers relevant adverts while still ensuring the data collected remains anonymous

According to Phorm, over the last year the service “has been the subject of a concerted campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of detractors who appear determined to harm our company, irrespective of the facts, and the potential benefits to UK consumers and websites and advertisers”.

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