Would you like your personal data anonymous or anonymous?

The Law of User Control is hard at work in a growing controversy about interception of people’s web traffic in the United Kingdom. At the center of the storm is the “patent-pending” technology of a new company called Phorm.

Phorm’s proprietary ad serving technology uses anonymised ISP data to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time – the right number of times. Our platform gives consumers advertising that’s tailored to their interests – in real time – with irrelevant ads replaced in the process.

The British Information Commissioners Office confirmed to the BBC that BT is planning a large-scale trial of the technology “involving around 10,000 broadband users later this month”. The ICO said: “We have spoken to BT about this trial and they have made clear that unless customers positively opt in to the trial their web browsing will not be monitored in order to deliver adverts.”

“I also have trouble with the notion that in Phorm identities are “anonymized”. As I understand it, each user is given a persistent random ID. Whenever the user accesses the ISP, the ISP can see the link between the random ID and the user’s natural identity. I understand that ISPs will prevent Phorm from knowing the user’s natural identity. That is certainly better than many other systems. But I still wouldn’t claim the system is based on anonymity. It is based on controlling the release of information.* Find out more on this from Kim Cameron’s blog.

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