European Commission launches legal action against Phorm

The European Commission (EC) has launched legal action against the British government following complaints by UK internet users about ISP-based behavioural targeting company Phorm.

The EC said it had received complaints from UK citizens and Members of the European Parliament saying that Phorm had been tested on the BT network without consumer consent.

As such, the EC has accused the UK government of breaching the European Union ePrivacy Directive, established in October 2003, laws to which it had agreed to comply.

Last year UK government backed Phorm, claiming the technology wouldn’t break EU laws as long as it conformed to a set of rules ( 17 September 2008).

These include profiling customers with their knowledge and agreement and that the user profile is based on a unique ID allocated at random.

But EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said UK laws were not protecting the anonymity and privacy of its citizens.

“I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws to ensure the national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation on the confidentiality of communications,” she said.

Phorm works by tracking users’ behaviour online to serve them relevant advertising.

ISP BT has worked with Phorm, which has also been in talks with Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media.

Reding also said she was still concerned with social networks’ privacy levels.

“I firmly believe that at least the profiles of minors must be private by default and unavailable to internet search engines,” said Reding.

She said the European Commission has already called on social networking sites to deal with minors’ profiles carefully and is “ready to follow this up with new rules if I have to”.

This story first appeared on

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