Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Nasty Phorm begins to decompose

SpyI wish I could find another word to prefix Phorm with (I just used nasty for the title of this post, purely for the sake of change), but after looking up a medical dictionary, insidious Phorm is just too good to avoid.

What did the medical dictionary say? The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary said: “a disease that progresses with few or no symptoms to indicate its gravity“. What can I say? How about, “If the cap fits…

Phorm has stank (or is it stunk, or just both) since it first hit the news, if you’re an ordinary web user that is, and has no idea what is being done with the “oily bits” under the bonnet of your web browsing.

Breaking into your personally identifiable data by carrying out DPI (deep packet inspection) of the information sent to your ISP, with their cooperation, and probably not your permission since they intended to make it a sneaky opt-out service, rather than a legitimate opt-in, it would then use that info to deliver targeted advertising personalised to your browsing habits. Apparently we’re supposed to think this is great, and the twisted minds behind Phorm think that this makes our web experience better by preventing us from being bombarded with web ads we have no interest in.

HELLO!!! We’ve no interest in ANY web adverts, whatever they are for, as they eat into our bandwidth and slow down the loading of our web pages. We don’t want to see them, ever, and I’m pleased to say that since I started using Firefox I haven’t seen a web ad in there for years. Firing up IE or Opera is now something of a shock, as pages crawl onto my screen, and I’m assaulted by insulting and irritating animations aimed at drawing my eyes away from the page I want, and to some puerile advert for… I was almost going to name some there, but as they’re not paying me, they’re not getting the free ad either! One of the best add-ons is an automated Flash blocker, as those are amongst the worst ad offenders, with the controls to kill the animation disabled to force you to watch them, and sometimes able to bypass conventional adblockers.

After being caught carrying out secret tests with BT, where no users were not informed or given any choice about being spied on or participating in these tests, Phorm was dumped by BT and then Talk Talk, which was followed by the good news that its share prices were collapsing, and that Virgin Media was also reconsidering their interest.

This was then followed by some “dirty pool”. Anyone involved in respectable Sales & Marketing activities learns at an early stage not to rubbish the opposition, or throw mud at their critics – it will stick, but probably not to those it’s thrown at. Phorm tried this, and its website was launched back in April, and basically poured scorn on anyone that took and active dislike to Phorm by adopting smear tactics:

“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,” explains the site.”Their energetic blogging and letter-writing campaigns, targeted at journalists, MPs, EU officials and regulators, distort the truth and misrepresent 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.”

And judge you may now, and draw your own conclusions, as the site has vanished – and now just redirects to Phorm’s FAQ page (last time I looked).

Never mind, you can still find plenty of other links at AntiPhorm.

Phorm is beginning to look a bit like a sinking ship, and you know what the little occupants do when that happens.

Directors appear top be following the web site, and vanishing. Its chief technology officer, Stratis Scleparis, who was with BT when Phorm carried out its first secret and naughty trial, then left BT and joined Phorm, has left.

Then its director of corporate communications, David Sawday, also left.

If I was involved with that ship, I’d be asking where the lifeboats and lifebelts were, and if they had been certified recently.

Founder and chief executive Kent Ertugrul is still reported to be there, with four non-executive directors keeping him company. Again, four non-execs and not a lot else… that’s not really a very good mix for a company that’s going anywhere (anywhere good that is). Its forthcoming results will make for interesting, and hopefully be depressing (for them, not us that is), with The Telegraph suggesting losses in the range of $15 million to $20 million compared to a pre-tax loss of $48 million last year. You can understand why some folk ask about the burn-rate of businesses – this is like throwing petrol on a burning fire.

There are good ways to do things, and bad ways to do things, and Phorm is surely an example of the latter. Its concept of “targeted online advertising” that would help ISPs out by routing some of the ad money back to them, was bad to start with, and just went downhill as time went on. It’s probably the sort of bad idea that has a good salesman behind, a visionary that deludes themselves into thinking they have the proverbial “best thing since sliced bread”, and the ability to talk others into following them, with their money – until it all eventually implodes.

Phorm has said that it will aim for other countries that are more interested in its products. Reading into the other media reports, this seems to mean countries where surveillance can be carried out without worrying about their opinion, as the state, or their government (dictatoship?) will make that decision for them, and they will like it.


September 21, 2009 - Posted by | Surveillance | ,

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