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The bizarre "Alice through the Looking Glass" world of Phorm

Posted By TelecomTV One , 29 April 2009 | 2 Comments | (1)
Tags: Phorm privacy Broadband Regulation BT

Phorm, the controversial "deep packet inspection" company has been getting a bad press. So much so that Kent Ertugrul, Phorm's CEO, has set up a website to counter it. Good points Kent, you've certainly convinced Martyn Warwick, as he explains.

The trouble all started when it was revealed that Phorm's software had been tested by the UK's incumbent telco, BT, without the knowledge or consent of those selected to be unwitting guinea pigs in an experiment devised to test the efficacy of software designed to snoop on subscriber's web-browsing habits.

Since then things have got progressively worse, with the European Commission (EC)  announcing that it is to sue the British government over its failure to protect the privacy of Internet users by not enforcing data protection legislation, and adding that it is considering taking Phorm itself to court over its "Webwise" behavioural profiling software.

Then to put the top hat on things, it emerged yesterday that Phorm has been in secret and collusive contact with the Brown administration in the UK in an attempt to gain what it described as "informal guidance" as to whether or not the Phorm "Webwise" behavioural profiling software is legal in the UK. The government also allowed the company to make changes to an official Home Office document that is ostensibly the foundation upon which a policy to protect the privacy of Internet users will be built (see - British Government "colluding" with Phorm).

In response, a rattled Kent Ertugrul, Phorm's CEO, has set up a website,, that is designed to be a locus for all those (perhaps we'll be able to count them in due course, but I wouldn't bet on it) that support Phorm and think Webwise is democracy in action and the best thing since sliced bread. Unfortunately though you won't be able to leave a calling card. In full keeping with the sort of democratic style espoused by Phorm, the website does not permit visitors to post comments. Strange that. bills itself as "the website that hits back at the privacy pirates smear campaign against Phorm", and on it Mr. Ertugrul makes a series of remarkable attacks on those people and organisations he claims have "orchestrated" a "smear campaign" against the company by "distorting the truth and misrepresenting Phorm's technology."

He writes, "Over the last year Phorm has been the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of online "privacy pirates" who appear very determined to harm our company. Their energetic blogging and letter-writing campaigns, targeted at journalists, MPs, EU officials and regulators, distort the truth and misrepresent Phorm's technology. We have decided to expose the smears and set out the true story, so that you can judge the facts for yourself." Do take a look. It's instructive and entertaining.

Ertugrul is particularly exercised by the activities of two strong critics of Phorm.

Resorting to personal attacks he describes Alexander Hanff and Marcus Williamson as "privacy pirates" a designation that could well come back to bite him on the nether regions in the weeks to come - especially as he suggests (without adducing any evidence to support his contentions) that the two men are "supported" by Phorm's commercial rivals.

Nonetheless, Kent Ertugrul says, "Given the persistence with which they propagate incorrect information, we cannot rule out the possibility that a competitor is involved." So, basically Ertugrul is saying that Hanff and Williamson are critical of his company because they are in the pockets of other companies that are developing different but similar software to Phorm. Both men strenuously deny the allegation.

It is surely a sign of desperation when the CEO of an AIM-listed company resorts to personal attacks on those that have the effrontery to criticise it rather than seeking to engage them in debate and persuade them that they are wrong by dint of cogent argument and the bringing forth of real, independently verifiable, proof that Webwise isn't, after all, an insidious, devious, sneaky, piece of surveillance software that drives a coach and horses through British and European data protection and privacy laws.

Instead Mr. Ertugrul calls Alexander Hanff a "serial agitator" and also claims he has been banned from various Internet fora for "unsavoury behaviour". Simultaneously, Marcus Williamson is accused of being, of all things, "a serial letter writer" attempting to heap opprobrium on both Phorm and its delicate and sensitive CEO. No Mr. Ertugrul, George Bernard Shaw was a serial letter writer, Marcus Williamson just doesn't like your company and software very much and now and then exercises his right to say so - like a lot of other people.

Alexander Hanff though is certainly a thorn in Phorm's side and claims responsibility for driving down the company's stock price from the £35.05 it once fatly sat at, down to its current level of £3.90. He says he will continue to criticise and work against Phorm until the company "either runs out of money or is banned from operation in the UK and the EU." It is known that Phorm is burning through cash like a sailor on shore leave.

And, lest we forget, Phorm's technology is designed to spy on people's web browsing habits and use the information gleaned to send users "targeted" advertising. To do this, Phorm software intercepts every one of a users http requests, assesses usage patterns, builds a profile of that usage and the user and does so by leeching on to a subscribers own, paid-for bandwidth. This is done on behalf of Phorm's and the ISP's clients who want to sell stuff to profiled individuals - whether those individuals want to be targeted and advertised at or not.

Finally, to the chap who posted a comment on the TelecomTV website complaining that I wasn't funny enough in writing yesterday's story about the UK government's collusion with Phorm, all I can do is draw your attention to the comment made by the great American humourist Tom Lehrer.

On hearing that Henry Kissinger had won the Nobel Peace Prize Lehrer declared that he was abandoning his profession because satire had been rendered obsolete. After spending some time in slack-jawed amazement in front of the bizarre website that is, I finally understand what he meant.

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2 comments (Add Yours) - click here to sign in

(1) 29 April 2009 23:24:17 by Roy Brown

Reason to oppose Phorm - a passionate desire to protect our privacy from their unwelcome intrusions

Reason to support Phorm - possible or actual financial gain

Do you know of anyone who opposes Phorm for any other reason than the purest, unfunded, hope that it will never come to fruition?

Do you know of anyone who supports Phorm for any other reason than the most venal, avaricious, hope that it will bring them personal gain?

(2) 30 April 2009 09:40:44 by Mike Shama

Very well put