Amazon hits back at online advertising parasite Phorm

16 Apr 2009

Amazon declares it will not allow Phorm to scan its webpages to create targeted ads.

Amidst the debate about whether social-networking site users are unwittingly giving away too much information about themselves and their interests, and so allowing advertisers to swoop in and target them, Amazon is one website that will not allow digital media technology company Phorm to scan its webpages to produce targeted ads.

In recent times, Phorm has garnered negative publicity because of the way it scans almost all of the sites a user visits, with an ongoing political debate about how a user gives consent to this scanning.

Marketed as Webwise, Phorm works with internet service providers (ISPs) to target ads by using deep packet inspection, without the clear consent of the ISPs’ users.

Phorm operates by creating a profile of users by scanning for keywords on websites visited. It then assigns relevant ads.

In March, the Open Rights Group wrote to the world’s foremost websites — Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Facebook, AOL, Bebo, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay — asking them to opt out of Phorm.

According to Amazon UK: “We have contacted Webwise requesting that we opt out for all of our domains.”

A reported by on Tuesday, the European Commission launched legal proceedings against the UK Government for breaching data protection rules and for giving too much freedom to internet service firms to gather personal data on internet users.

Between 2006 and 2007, Phorm conducted trials with BT regarding its technology, which is yet to be launched in the UK.

The EU Commission is requesting that the rules covering interception of online traffic be tightened.

Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, said she is becoming ever-more concerned about advertising that is based on the gathering of details of a user’s online behaviour.

“Do you want to turn the internet into a jungle? This could happen if we cannot control the use of our information online,” she said.

“Technologies such as internet behavioral advertising can be useful for businesses and consumers, but they must be used in a way that complies with EU rules. These rules are there to protect the privacy of citizens, and must be rigorously enforced by all member states.”

Reding continued: “There is an undeniable risk that privacy is being lost to the brave new world of intrusive technologies.”

In a video posted on her website on Tuesday, Reding also called on social-networking companies to reinforce privacy protection online: “Privacy must, in my view, be a high priority for social-networking providers and their users. I firmly believe that, at least, the profiles of minors must be private by default and unavailable to internet search engines. 

“The European Commission has already called on social-networking sites to deal with minors’ profiles carefully, by means of self-regulation. I am ready to follow this up with new rules if I have to,” Reding said.

By Carmel Doyle

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic