The Internet can be a generic place to view content for people who do not wish to share personal information or give up any details about themselves.

While in practice this is a good theory, there are times when volunteering some personal information helps to craft a better Internet experience for yourself and for the sites you view.

While you access the web through your Internet Service Provider, often paying a flat fee for content each month, what you see on the periphery is often tailored to where you view. You may see sports-themed ads if you have been to a sports website. Frequent a lot of travel sites? Chances are an ad for a hotel-reservation site may pop up.

How do people know what and where you frequent on the Internet? The answer comes from companies that specialize in tracking the browsing habits of those on computers. Companies like Phorm, which specialize in advertising software that caters to the habits of Internet viewers, come to mind. Phorm global technology has been around in some variation since the first decade of the Internet, and the industry of specialized advertising has really exploded in the past few years.

The technology works because it can only be activated by you, the consumer. By providing your personal information, you do what is called opt-in service. Personal and relevant information provided to the company enables it to track where you visit online. Read a lot about football? Expect to see football-themed ads. Are you a gourmet cook? You may see plenty of food advertising on sites you visit. Fashion aficionados may see ads for department stores or clothing lines.

With this randomized form of computer technology, companies do not know the identities of the person they track, eliminating the chance for malicious mischief to occur. Information is never shared with third parties. This is a key factor. Why would a company want to share this information with a third party when they are the ones collecting data themselves?

Safe ways to gather content and view ads relevant to your online experience are an integral part of web safety. Ads may be a nuisance to some but are vital for the overall health of the digital market. By opting in safely, the consumer can be tempted to click on ads for companies rather than be subject to irrelevant products.

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  1. Pengipete

    This blatant promotional material is ill-informed or deliberately misleading at ever step.

    phorm started out as 121 Media – a notorious spyware company that produced rootkits and some of the worst and most widespread malware ever. By 2006, the owner of phorm – Kent Ertugrul was being sought by America’s Federal Trade Commission in relation to that malware production and he left the US only to resurface in Britain. In 2006 and 2007, phorm – in conjunction with BT – a major ISP – secretly installed phorm’s equipment in exchanges and illegally interception the internet traffic of many thousands of people. Once the facts about that were exposed, phorm were chased out of the UK and the UK government faced prosecution by the European Commission for their failure to take legal action against this company.

    phorm then moved to South Korea and ran trials of their system – but they were rejected for unstated reasons. They moved to Brazil where the public were very much opposed to having their internet traffic interfered with and the Brazilian government tightened their privacy laws making it effectively impossible for phorm to operate there – and that country became another no-go area for phorm. After Brazil, they tried it on in Romania – but the people and government acted quickly and they had to move on to Turkey – where they are currently running trials but there is a growing backlash from the public and signs that the authorities are likely to declare that phorm’s system can not be used.

    The system works by intercepting ALL of your internet usage. It makes a copy of EVERYTHING you read, upload or download. It then scans that copy for “keywords” and creates a “profile” which is later used to decide what adverts you will be shown – basically, if the word “coffee” appears a lot on webpages you read, you’ll get adverts for some brand of coffee – or for new cups or biscuits.

    Part of the reason that phorm have run into legal problems around the world is that they deliberately try to confuse the two parts of their system – as they are again doing here – and let’s not pretend that this “article” wasn’t written by their PR company – there have been dozens of such “articles” appearing in the last couple of weeks and they are all pretty-much identical.

    You may be able to “opt out” – but not being shown those “targeted adverts” does not mean that phorm are not still intercepting your private communications. That specific point was raised multiple times when they tried it on in the UK and phorm’s spokesmen side-stepped or gave different answers every time. The plain fact is that there is no possible way for phorm to know if someone is opted in or out without them accessing some sort of setting – and if you are “opted out”, that requires phorm to illegally access files or cookies on your private, personal computer. That specific point was a major stumbling block when they tried to infest BT’s network. Customers complained and threatened to sue BT and to bring various criminal charges against the ISP if they or phorm tried to access their computers. BT then stated that they were trying to come-up with a “network level opt-out” – but they were unable to do so and eventually dropped phorm completely.

    In short – if phorm is allowed onto your ISP’s network, they will take your private, personal data whether you like it or not – you cannot stop them – it is simply impossible to do so.

    If you are a website owner, there are more problems. You create your site and you own it and everything on it. phorm are copying your site and your content – then using that information to make money for themselves – and they will never ask your permission or tell you that they are doing so – nor will they allow you refuse them. It gets worse – if yours is a commercial site, phorm will spy on what YOUR customers are looking for on your site and then use that information to advertise someone elses products. They will steal information from your site and use it to steal your customers. You may as well let someone stand in your shop and hand out leaflets advertising your business rivals.

    There’s no point allowing this spyware to be installed in your country and thinking that it won’t affect you because you can “opt-out”. Once it’s there, you will have no privacy or security. The system that phorm uses – “Deep Packet Inspection” – is the same one used by authoritarian governments around the world to spy on and control their populations. It is a very, very dangerous tool that should not be in the hands of known peddlars of malware and rootkits like phorm.

    On the upside, the global revulsion this spyware company has produced has seen them pushed to the verge of going broke. Since 2008, their share-price has plummeted from almost £36 per share to around 50p and they have had to repeatedly issue more shares or borrow money to stay afloat. Most of their original, experienced board walked out in December 2008 and the company is now basically run by one man – the same one that was previously under investigation by the FTC over the distribution of rootkits.

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