Republished: A quick look at Webwise Discover

Originally published on 06 June 2009

Well, as I posted in the News links yesterday, Phorm have launched a service called Webwise Discover. It appears that this is largely a front end, allowing the user to further benefit from having Phorm follow you around the internet.

But lets take a quick look at it;

So, I found it whilst trying to get to Phorms website,, but was instead confronted with a vile flash intro (god I hate those things).
As annoying as flash intros are, they don't really reflect on the quality of a service, though they do make me more likely to go elsewhere!

So anyway, once we get past the flash intro, we are taken to the Discoverer page (there's a link on there to go to Phorms corporate page as well), and Webwise Discover is presented to us.

Webwise Discover brings relevant content from across the web directly to you, wherever you are online.

It works by understanding your interests from
the pages you visit. So, if you're interested
in celebrities and football you will receive a range
of the latest stories, video clips, blogs etc. on your favourite celebrity and favourite team.

So, as the name suggests, it is reliant upon the WebWise service itself. That is to say, if you don't have Phorm earwigging your line, you can't use Discover.

For once, I'm not going to delve too much into the problems with the Phorm service. This article is aimed more at looking at Discover, not that there is too much information available just yet. Phorm on the other hand, can't just show the service on its merits, they feel the need to add in a line about privacy, that really has more to do with WebWise itself than it does Discoverer.

Webwise Discover is a free service that will be offered by internet service providers. If you choose to activate Webwise Discover, it will provide personalised content and useful advertising,
and has been designed to never know who you are, keep no record of where you've been, provides free and transparent choice and stays away from anything sensitive. If at any time you don't want it, you can turn it off wherever you see it.

We already know what the transparent choice is, they will Opt you in automatically, then you can opt out if you wish. Of course if you delete that cookie, you're back in.

The statement about turning Discoverer off wherever you see it, gives a (albeit slightly prejudiced) suggestion to me that the Discover service is going to appear on a lot of pages, and will probably bug the living hell out of me. Although I can't see anything on their website explaining the mechanism for turning Discover off, experience tells us that it will probably involve cookies.

Worse than that, I dare say that even when turned off, it will still be present so that you can switch it back on if you want. More bandwidth wasted, more annoyances from flash type boxes.

Now, it appears this service would bug the hell out of me, and even without the Privacy Implications, I think I could safely say that I would not use it. But, it would appear that I am in the minority;

Polls say 82% of people liked webwise discover and anti-phishing, 72% just like Discover.
- Populus Research survey of 2075 broadband users

Now, (and I know I said I would try and avoid this issue) a large part of me wonders just how informed these users were. I.e were they shown this shiny new service and asked if they liked it, or where they given a more technical detail of exactly what it entails?

People I've spoken to, like the look fo Discover (some hate it though), but are generally put off once they are told the mechanism of how it learns your interests. That is obviously a very small sample of people compared to the 2075 users surveyed, but for myself I'm not convinced.

So the question is, would you trust your privacy to a company like Phorm in order to use a service such as Discover?