Following on from last week’s story about Phorm and Webwise, some more info’s come to my attention in this whole debacle. I told you all last week about how we are all sleepwalking our way into a world where we have no freedoms, no liberties, and no right to privacy. Today, I’m going to expand that argument further, and show you, beyond reasonable doubt, that what Phorm and Webwise are doing is morally wrong, ethically bad, and very probably illegal under British and European law.
First, we need to get into the legality (or lack of it, which seems more appropriate… ex-spyware-peddlers, don’t forget…) of Phorm and Webwise. Part of the massive furore over the system has been down to whether or not it will be illegal. And this is where the government got involved, specifically the Home Office, by completely turning a blind eye to it. We’ll forget for a second that the government actively WANT the ability to spy on people legitimately, and that it’s entirely likely they’ll force ISP’s to install something similar to Webwise in their own networks (which, by the way, we’ll never be told about).
No, what we need to concentrate on is the FIPR (Foundation for Information Policy Research) response to the Home Office’s turning of a blind eye. On that link you’ll find a couple of open letters, regarding the technical aspects, and more importantly, the legal aspects. However, I’ll sum up the important point for anyone who doesn’t like long-winded mumbo-jumbo and legalese (ie/ normal people like you and me)
Conclusion, drawn from the FIPR legal analysis
PHORM AND WEBWISE ARE TOTALLY, 100% ILLEGAL UNDER UK LAW. THEY ARE IN BREACH OF DATA PROTECTION LAW, RIPA LEGISLATION AND TRADING STANDARDS/FRAUD LAW.
I’d call that pretty categorical. If one can cite the specific sections of the specific acts Phorm and Webwise are in breach of, one must conclude there are some specific illegalities going on.
Of course, if that’s the case, we all KNOW the government will make amends to data protection law and RIPA to make it not be illegal. They do, after all, want it to happen…
But there’s another aspect to Phorm and Webwise that a forum contributor thought of on BadPhorm (and it’s something I’d never even considered, so my heartfelt thanks go to that guy… well, male or female, and their name, I don’t know, because unlike certain ISP’s I could mention, I respect privacy…), and that’s the very, VERY real possibility that Phorm could put YOUR company out of business.
Let me explain… Say you own an online shop that sells, for sake of argument, mobile phones. A user goes on your site, and Webwise sees (and profiles) that you’re interested in mobile phones. But then, they bombard that user with adverts for mobile phones, and this is the crucial part, FROM SHOPS OTHER THAN YOURS.
So, that user goes off and buys a mobile phone from them, and you lose the sale. Keep that up with every user who visits your site, and very soon, you’ll find that Webwise has turned your profit into loss, and has killed your business.
It’s kind of poignant that this story goes on our blog today, as today is officially the 15th birthday of the internet. 15 years ago today, the first code was laid down in the CERN lab, that would eventually flourish and evolve into the web we have today. Dubbed the creator of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee put down that code 15 years ago, and today, he’s still involved in the web. What does he think of Phorm and Webwise?
No surprise, really, he hates it! And yet Kent Ertugrul, CEO of Phorm, has gone on record to imply Berners-Lee doesn’t understand the technical issues! Erm, hang on, he created the internet, I would imagine he knows a fair bit about it, Kent.
Still, what would you expect from ex-spyware-peddlers? The truth? No, I can’t see that happening.
There are ways to stop Phorm and Webwise (‘Section 10 and Section 11 DPA notices served on your ISP’ springs to mind), outlined in some details over at BadPhorm, and the fight to get this illegal (according to the extensive and well-thought-out FIPR research) system stopped for good will go on. If you like your privacy, you’ll stand up and be counted.
And if not, then have fun when every single one of your communications are wiretapped and spied on, and your business has gone bankrupt, because of Phorm and Webwise…
Do you have a business that stands to lose money because of Webwise (hint: if you have a business, yes, you do!)? Do you think Phorm are lying about having nothing to hide? Do you think that Phorm and Webwise will kill the internet as we know it? Join in the debate, here!