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U.K. Ad Agency Gets Nasty Over Press Release

| 27 Feb 2009 21:12
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Various news outlets in the U.K. have pulled stories saying that internet users don't like their browsing habits spied upon following legal threats by Phorm, the company doing the spying.

Phorm, a "digital technology company" involved with both online security and advertising, has "repeatedly cited" but never actually published its own market research showing that people want a "more relevant internet experience," which it offers by way of its Webwise software. Available freely to ISPs, Webwise purports to offer warnings to customers about fraudulent "phishing" sites they may visit, but also monitors browsing activity in order to match online advertising with each user's particular interest.

Phorm claims that Webwise works completely anonymously but a survey taken by the consumer group Which? indicated that contrary to Phorm's claims, most ISP customers weren't thrilled with the prospect of having their browsing watched, anonymously or otherwise, and were opposed to plans by BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to collaborate with Phorm in using the software. BT has already conducted three trials of the program, the first two of which were done in secret, without customer consent.

But when Which? issued a press release detailing its findings, Phorm responded with legal threats. The agency says its libel lawyers are now working with Which? to "correct" the press release, which has resulted in the withdrawal of the release and the removal or editing of stories based on the data from sites including The Press Association, Channel 4 News, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. A spokesman for Phorm said the threat of legal action stemmed from inaccuracies in the press release, including that it "repeatedly stated the Webwise system collects and sells on data, which is misleading."

Manipulating phraseology to get a desired answer is a touch on the greasy side, but rolling out the lawyers to prevent others doing the same thing is a whole different ballgame. Is there a legitimate complaint here or is this just a litigational broadside against the press? It's hard to say at this point but on the surface at least, the whole thing looks just a wee bit dodgy.

Source: The Register

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