While NebuAd Retreats, Phorm and BT Plow Ahead

As we reported on Tuesday, NebuAd has lost its CEO and, after facing Congressional scrutiny over privacy fears, the will to pursue ISP customers with its deep-packet inspection technology. But its UK rival, Phorm, apparently wants investors to believe it’s still in the game. While NebuAd told the Washington Post that it plans to get out of the business of selling its system to ISPs, Phorm is trying to make clear it’s not having any problems with its own plans to roll out advertising based on a consumer’s web surfing habits. A company spokeswoman says the company plans to could use its technology to branch out to track and offer ads on interactive television services as well — a type of offering we’d predicted.

The former adware company said this morning that its deal with BT is going ahead, while its deals with Virgin Media and TalkTalk will proceed later. From its filing with the AIM market on the London Stock Exchange:

Since that time, the Company has been working closely with BT to prepare its network for a trial. Whilst this has taken longer than originally anticipated, significant and accelerating progress has been made. The trial will commence as soon as these preparations are complete.

In addition, Phorm expects that Virgin Media and TalkTalk will commence consumer trials in due course. Following successful completion of these trials and an appropriate planning period, it is currently expected that Phorm’s platform will be rolled out across these networks.

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the firm’s success (and looks a lot like NebuAd’s statements when Congress initially started sniffing around its deals), but spokeswoman Stephanie Willerton said Phorm still plans to pursue ISP customers both in the UK and in the U.S. It has a New York office, which it opened earlier this year with an eye to North American expansion plans. Willerton also said the company has adapted its technology to address privacy fears, referring me to the opt-in page on the Phorm web site to learn more.

But the proposed opt-in plan suffers from some of the same problem’s NebuAd’s system did — namely that you opt out once on a machine, that the opt-out is only targeted at the machine, not the person. If I visit other computers that have been opted in, I’m still being tracked. Willerton didn’t dispute this but said that once someone opts out, Phorm doesn’t track anything further.

Despite the British government’s assurances of legality, the European Union hasn’t been as impressed and is asking its own questions as to how legal the Phorm web tracking is. Additionally, since Phorm still plans to market its services in the U.S. (currently is says it has no U.S. customers), Congress may have to be appeased as well. Meanwhile, BT customers should prepare for more scrutiny on their surfing habits, especially once “significant and accelerating progress has been made.”

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