Whatever your view on ISP-based behavioural targeting advertiser Phorm, you must admit it’s never dull for long. Claiming it is the victim of a sustained campaign of smears from online “privacy pirates” who equate its behavioural targetting software with spyware, the company has now gone on the ultra-offensive with a new site, Stopphoulplay.com, to respond to mistruths in the media and blogosphere. The site says: “We have decided to expose the smears and set out the true story, so that you can judge the facts for yourself.” It has already been greeted with disbelief and scorn by some observers — Guardian columnist Paul Carr labeled it “absolutely the dumbest PR move in the history of the universe”.
– Home Office “collusion”: And the site won’t stop the negative headlines appearing: today bbc.co.uk reports that Phorm advised the Home Office on a public advice document on whether the company’s ISP-based software is legal. An email obtained using the Freedom of Information Act and passed to the BBC — apparently a favourite tactic of the “privacy pirates” — from a Home Office official to Phorm’s legal representative says: “My personal view accords with yours, that even if it is ‘interception’, which I am doubtful of, it is lawfully authorised under section 3 by virtue of the user’s consent obtained in signing up to the ISPs terms and conditions.” CEO Kent Ertugrul writes in a letter to The Guardian that there was no “collusion” between Phorm and the Home Office: “This is untrue and misrepresents the way in which the British legal system works.” more after the jump
– Phoul play: The Phoul Play site offers rebuttals, counter-claims and corrections for a string of negative stories, such as the European Commission’s declaration that UK privacy laws should be changed in light of opposition to Phorm or Virgin Media’s (incorrectly) reported move to cancel its relationship with the business. There are details on the tactics of leading anti-Phorm campaigners including Alex Hannf and Marcus Williamson, which the latter has already labeled (via Telegraph.co.uk) a smear on his character.
– Will it work?: Phorm has been saying both publicly and privately in recent months that it has been looking to take hold of the debate surrounding it. At a second “town hall” styled meeting in London this month Ertugrul defended his company and — there’s definitely a trend here — attacked the know-nothing privacy campaigners and their scare tactics. There is some misunderstanding about the company’s Open Internet Exchange software in some quarters. But the increasing siege mentality, in which the company almost paints itself as the victim of a conspiracy from some concerted activists will only deepen many people’s suspicions. Both Wikipedia and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) have already asked Phorm not to record visits by their users. And all this from a “pre-revenue” business that has yet to set a date for full deployment with any of its partners…
UPDATE: It appears the main purpose of the site is to immediately respond to all Phorm’s negative press. Sure enough, the company has now added its response to the “smear” that it “colluded” with the Home Office. “It is normal practice for businesses in whatever field they operate to engage with government regarding their services,” it says.