Republished: BT Finally See Sense

Originally published on 18 March 2008

There have been murmers online that BT are planning to do the same as Carphone Wharehouse and make a few changes to the Phorm system, by creating a virtual wall between people who haven't opted in and the profiling hardware. They also intend to do away with the cookie 'opt-out' and create something more in line with the law. I sent BT an email a few days ago asking a variety of questions about the system (I'm on BT and don't like the system one bit) and got the following as a reply

Dear Mr. Tasker,

Thank you for your email.

I would like to to confirm to you that BT Webwise will always be offered as a choice. Those customers who have chosen not to participate will not have their browsing information mirrored or profiled, and no information will go to the BT managed profiler. No information is gathered, and therefore no information is forwarded to Phorm. Customers who opt out will not come into contact with any Phorm-managed equipment.

Opting in and out of BT Webwise is extremely easy and completely transparent. Standard opt out method does depend on a cookie remaining on your machine indicating that you have opted out. If you delete your cookies regularly, you will have to opt-out again each time you start a browsing session. But for those who delete cookies regularly and want to remain opted out, you can block cookies from the domain on each browser you use. When you block this domain, the service will opt you out permanently.

In parallel with the trial, we are already developing an opt-out solution that would remove the need for opt-out cookies altogether.

I hope this email answers some of your questions.


BT Webwise Helpdesk.

So although the system will be automatic 'opt-in' there should be a permanent way to opt-out, if they have any kind of sense it will be on an account basis, and will be instant. If there is a delay of more than an hour between opting out and being opted out then I will be raising a few issues with BT about my privacy. Still, that remains to be seen. It is a pity they don't seem keen to make the system 'opt-in' (perhaps because very few people would), so the main thing is to spread the word amongst BT users - YOU CAN OPT OUT OF HAVING YOUR WEB TRAFFIC MONITORED AND ANALYSED BY BT AND PHORM! - so that anyone not wanting to use the system can opt-out immediately.

Interesting BT have completely skipped around a question that I felt compelled to ask;

must ask, out of curiousty, if our browsing habits are as valuable as they certainly appear to be, will there be savings on our internet bill if we opt-in? Will BT be paying us for helping generate marketing information?Somehow I believe it is doubtful

Which presumably means, No! No savings, no payment, nothing but an anti-phishing service (that most browsers already incorporate) and slightly more relevant advertising on a select few pages. Personally I can do without another temptation to spend money on crap I don't need, and Firefox already has Anti-Phishing technology in it as default.

The thing that strikes me as particularly worrying about the whole Phorm affair is the dishonesty being shown. It does make you wonder if people who have opted-out will actually be walled away from the hardware or not. BT have admitted to misleading customers about their testing of the Phorm system last summer. In fact in their admission their are a few question marks over honesty. BT Business customers on completely seperate exchanges claim to have noticed requests going to (a domain owned by Phorm) yet BT claim the test was run on a single exchange. Phorm and the ISP's seem to be contradicting each other about whether the contents are stored at all, the ISP's are claiming that the cached version is deleted before the page even loads on the users computer, whilst Phorm claim that the pages are cached and processed afterwards to reduce latency (the time between sending a request, and receiving a response).
All these twists and turns make me very, very nervous about the system, and I will definitely be opting out. Unless you have good reason not to, you probably should too.

From where I am standing the participating ISP's are putting the reputation of their business names on the line, and are doing a pretty good job of destroying them. The respect I hold for BT as a service provider has definitely diminished considerably.

Incidentally, if you are a webmaster, you may wish to put the following notice on the footer of your pages;


It means that Phorm are not allowed to intercept your webtraffic, though quite how they are going to figure it out without intercepting the traffic should be interesting. But as the UK Government's thinktank - The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) - have specified that Phorm is illegal it may be that they never get as far as having to think about how to deal with sites that don't want their traffic intercepted.