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In what must go down as one the biggest tech u-turns of the century so far, the ISP that was quite happy to undertake Internet snooping trials without informing those customers being spied upon has changed its mind about Phorm WebWise. BT, the biggest Internet Service Provider in the UK, has dramatically dropped plans to roll out the Phorm deep packet inspecting WebWise behavioural advertising Internet usage system completely.

This after it defended its position with regards to those secret trials, and proposed usage of Phorm to spy upon its members, through a furious media backlash, a police investigation which was eventually dropped and even through a high level privacy breach investigation which went as far as the European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, who decided that the trials were, indeed, illegal under European law.

The EU Commissioner said "I call on the UK authorities to change their national laws and ensure that national authorities are duly empowered and have proper sanctions at their disposal to enforce EU legislation on the confidentiality of communications" but BT remained unphased.

All the while it stood firm, shoulder to shoulder with Phorm, and insisted that it had done nothing wrong and was acting in the best interests of its customers. Yeah right, I remain unconvinced that the Phorm argument of 'as you browse, we're able to categorize all of your Internet actions" is in my best interest.

And then, out of nowhere, BT announced this week that it now had no plans to roll out the WebWise service any time soon and would instead be concentrating its efforts on other things. Phorm shares immediately fell by 25 percent as the news sunk in. Now things have got even worse, as another big ISP, Carphone Warehouse, has also pulled support for Phorm which has led to a further 11.5 percent drop in share values.

Carphone Warehouse CEO Charles Dunstone insists his company was only ever going to be using the Phorm WebWise system if BT was using it, and indeed if the whole industry threw its weight behind the scheme. "We were not interested enough to do it on our own” he says.

Meanwhile, the final remaining member of the ISP triumvirate which signed the Phorm Memorandum of Understanding, Virgin Media, is said to be evaluating the technology and continuing to do so. Personally, I expect it will tell Phorm to phorget it soon enough as it seems unlikely to go it alone considering how controversial the whole behavioural advertising thing has proved to be so far. Indeed, big names such as Amazon and Wikipedia had already phactored Phorm out of the business equation, although there have been rumours that Google might be interested in pursuing a similar technology.

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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