Warc Blog

BT avoids online privacy case

14 April 2011
LONDON: BT, the UK's largest home internet provider, will not face government legal action over an online behavioural targeting initiative.

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that it will not prosecute BT and Phorm for conducting a 2006 trial of a technology called Page Sense.

Around 18,000 customers participated without their prior knowledge. The initiative sparked consumer privacy concerns after being made public.

Page Sense worked by scanning the web pages viewed by individual users, and then serving targeted ads based on this behaviour. All data monitored during the trial was anonymised.

BT subsequently said that no laws had been broken by the trial. The broadband provider's relationship with Phorm ended in 2009.

In a statement, the CPS said: "In rare cases ... it may become clear prior to the collection and consideration of all the likely evidence that a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

"We would only take such a decision if we were satisfied that the broad extent of the criminality had been determined and that we could make a fully informed assessment of the public interest. This is such a case."

Institutions from both the public and private sectors have responded to consumer concerns over online behavioural advertising in a variety of ways.

The European Commission is currently updating its data protection laws, and is likely to recommend stricter controls on the use of online data.

"I am a firm believer in the necessity of enhancing individuals' control over their own data," Viviane Reding, the European Union's justice commissioner, said last month.

"Individuals must be informed about which data is collected and for what purposes. They need to know how it might be used by third parties. They must know their rights and which authority to address if those rights are violated."

She added: "They must be told about the risks related to the processing of their personal data so that they don't lose control over their data or that their data is not misused."

Meanwhile, Yahoo recently rolled out an Ad Choices icon, which appears alongside display ads on its pages - and which, the company hopes, will become an industry standard.

Users who click on the icons are given information on the advertiser, and will also be given the opportunity to change their privacy preferences.

Speaking at the 2011 ISBA Conference, Justin Weiss, international privacy director at Yahoo, said: "Data collection in an invisible way is creepy to people. They don't like the idea of it.

"We have to find creative solutions to get at the issue of a lack of transparency."

Data sourced from The Guardian/Daily Telegraph/EU/Warc; additional content by Warc staff

 
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