Is Phorm’s new website really going to stop foul play?

Is Phorm’s new website really going to stop foul play?
7 May 2009 | | Internet, Technology

First it would have to demonstrate that there has been foul play – but judging by the stopphoulplay.com website, which went live on Tuesday morning, the software company Phorm doesn’t have much to go on apart from its own continuing frustration at its critics.

“Over the last year Phorm has been the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of online ‘privacy pirates’ who appear very determined to harm our company,” the site says, claiming that “energetic blogging and letter-writing campaigns” have misrepresented Phorm’s technology.

“We have decided to expose the smears and set out the true story, so that you can judge the facts for yourself.”

The idea for the site is understood to have come from Patrick Robertson, a newly hired adviser to Phorm, who felt that it was time for the company to go on the offensive.

Initial reaction, however, suggests the idea has backfired badly. And to the possible delight of libel lawyers, the site names those it calls “the main characters in the anti-Phorm campaign”, including The Register website (which was the first to write about Phorm’s first, potentially illegal, trial in 2007, carried out without user consent), the Open Rights Group (ORG) and a number of individuals including the IT specialist Alexander Hanff.

The Register’s Chris Williams, who has written extensively about the company, said: “I can’t see anything resembling substantive criticisms of my reporting.” Jim Killock, ORG’s executive director, said: “It’s very strange behaviour for a stockmarket-listed company to be making accusations like that.”

Hanff, on his blog, said: “I am sure the media and public will see it for exactly what it is – a desperate attempt by Phorm to discredit a group of innocent people concerned about the threat Phorm’s technology poses to their privacy.”

Phorm is controversial to some because it aims to monitor web pages that people visit and then serve up targeted adverts in other web pages based on the entirety of their browsing, not just the content of the page being viewed. Certain categories, such as gambling and pornography, would be excluded from adverts. Such “behavioural advertising” would require people to be advised ahead of time so they could opt out.
But Phorm may have more immediate problems. Its accounts show that last year it lost $24.66m (£17m), and $16.3m in 2007, with no recorded revenue. Phorm is thus burning through its cash reserves (though it raised £32m last March); it urgently needs BT to roll out its technology across its broadband network and begin serving adverts. Otherwise there is the possibility that it will simply flame out, and a surviving company – perhaps BT itself? – may buy the technology on the cheap from the receivers.

Content courtesy of  https://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/apr/30/phorm-software

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