Republished: The Best Bits of StopPhoulPlay

Originally published on 20 May 2009

I was having another curious read of Phorms PR blog -StopPhoulPlay - and there were a couple of things I noticed. If I'm honest, they made me laugh. There's nothing more you can do when reading such trash.

OK, so lets get started. In this post Phorm talk about the number 10 petition. Now personally, I believe most of these petitions are a waste of time, I've yet to hear of a success story. But, Phorm go one step further,

In the United Kingdom, the tradition of raising a popular petition against a perceived miscarriage of justice has a long and distinguished pedigree, but not one that the privacy pirates felt any hesitation about desecrating.

Now, how exactly does that work? The 'Privacy Pirates' posted a petition on number 10's website about an issue. An issue that they, and many others, clearly feel strongly about. How is that a desecration of the Petition Tradition? Surely it's the point in petitions.

Still, it gets better. Lets take a look at 'The Truth' from Phorms perspective;

The total number of signatures in support of the petition was 21,403, or 0.2% of the combined broadband subscriber base of the UKs three largest ISPs.

Now any statistician will tell you that you will never get 100% of people to fill out a questionnaire, or sign a petition. OK, there's a huge gap between 100% and 0.2% (assuming the figure is correct), but many of those subscribers were probably unaware of Phorm, or even just unaware of the Petition itself. Another percentage will question the point in filling out any petition on Number 10s website. Then you have the percentage who see that you need to provide quite a few details just to add your signature, and probably decided that they couldn't be bothered.

It may be a tiny percentage, but its still tens of thousands of people. I remember being told that one letter to an MP usually represents the opinion of at least 100 people, so if you apply that logic here, thats 2140300 people. Give or take.

There's no way to accurately identify how many are for Phorm, how many are against, and how many just don't care (Most BT Subscribers I've spoken to are against), so lets move on.

Phorm takes a look at the Open Rights Group's Open letter. In the post Phorm launches yet another attack on Marcus Williamson. It once again claims that he is a serial letter writer, but a) there's no substantiation and b) if the letters are all about Phorm then it's not really representative.

Phorm also claims that the letter was published purely to create bad PR for Phorm. This is an interesting twist on what I expect to be the truth. I'd say that the letter was published in an effort to make the consumer aware of Phorm, and the planned system. Of course, if I was a PR bod at Phorm, this would definitely be classed as bad PR.

It does not bode well for a company if any releases made for the benefit of the consumer are bad PR. It means that an informed consumer would not choose to use your product/service.

ORG claims that its campaign against Phorm is motivated by the higher purpose of protecting consumer privacy. But if that were the whole story Phorm would be engaging with ORG in a very civilised dialogue since we share the same objective, which is why we have designed a technology that sets a new benchmark for online privacy.

Sadly, this statement is misguided. There is no way that Phorms system can be deployed as planned and protect consumer privacy. Yes, there could be some dialogue to improve the privacy aspects of the system, but it's already been said that what the consumer wants is for the system to be Opt-In (not Opt-Out), and to be set at network level. I.e Traffic should not touch their hardware unless we've opted in.
Not that hard is it? Oh unless you suspect consumers don't want your product. Then it's just not good business to ask permission, better to imply it.

On data storage and anonymity, ORG has made a habit of refraining from critcising any of the major search engines or online companies which daily store massive amounts of personal data and information. For reasons best known to themselves, ORG have chosen to focus most of their vitriol against one company, Phorm, which has not even deployed its technology yet and is remarkable for one fact only - that it does not store any personal information such as browsing histories, IP addresses or search histories. Why is that?

On interception, ORG repeatedly claim that Phorm is like the Post Office opening your mail, a deliberately alarmist and inaccurate statement which suggests that our system is not anonymous. The Post Office tag is also designed to give the impression that consumers will not be offered a clear choice and that our system stores personal information and reads email. Neither of these assertions are true, and we believe that ORG knows it.

Phorms system introduces a completely new and significantly higher benchmark for online privacy than has existed previously - a unique achievement among the world?s many interest based advertisers. Instead of crediting Phorm for embedding privacy at the very heart of its technology, ORG prefers to lob brickbats at Phorm. At the same time, it does not say a word about applications such as Gmail, for example, which is not anonymous, does not offer the non-account holder a choice as to whether their messages are scanned, does store information and does scan email. Again, we have to ask why?

Simple Answer? Those systems do not encompass the entire net. They should be Opt-In as well, but at least they only affect partner websites, and don't scrape every page we visit. Phorm may promise not to read our e-mails, but the fact remains that they can.
The difference between Gmail and Phorm? I can choose whether I trust Google enough to use Gmail without needing to change ISP. If I don't trust Phorm, then I need to move to an ISP that doesn't use them.

Yes Gmail may scan my e-mails, but as far as I am aware, only when I use Webmail. If I want to read my e-mails, and not have them scanned - POP3 Client. Or, of course, I can stick an autoreply on Gmail and change e-mail addresses. Simples!

Now we have a bit about a very aggressive and discourteous message. Alex Handoff posted a reply to a question by Marina Palombo, legal director of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. Phorm have quoted a single snippet;

She must have found her Law Society membership in a Christmas cracker.

Which has been taken completely out of context. Have a read of the post here. They've even gone so far as to capitalize the S to make it look like an independent sentence. Its actually the end of a sentence making an observation on the motivation for here question, followed by a post that answers her original question. Aside from the comment about Christmas crackers (which I suspect was written tongue in cheek) there is no discourtesy, the post may read as a little patronising, but it's certainly not aggressive.

Now for the post on the EU's Infringement Proceedings, Phorm are quite right in stating that it is a matter between the commission and the Government, and that Phorm are not party to it. Conveniently though, they forgot to mention that it has come about as a result of complaints about who? Oh yeah, Phorm! It's the way the EU works, they wont take action against Phorm directly unless they have to, instead they will tell the member state to be compliant, and thats what they've done.

So what do we think of Phorms blog? Frankly it's the best laugh I've had in years. If I was a professor at a law school, I'd be displaying it as a prime example of how to twist facts to suit. There's nothing on that site that is clearly a lie, but it is far from accurate. The truth has been taken an re-invented to suit the writer.

In the interest of Full and Open disclosure I should point out that I am far from an advocate of Phorm. I believe it is a gross invasion of my privacy, and I will change ISP the day that it is rolled out. I will also continue to make sure consumers are aware of who their ISP is getting into bed with.