It would be naïve to think that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) doesn’t hold an incredible amount of information about you. Unless you’re incredibly stealthy / geeky, they have access to every web site you view, every email message you send, every instant messaging conversation you hold… well I could go on, but you get the idea.
Now, a formula: ISP with a lot of personal information about you + ISP wanting to make more money = showing you targeted advertising while you use the Internet.
In reality, some ISPs have probably already been sharing bits of your data with other companies, but now a company called Phorm wants to insert relevant ads as you surf.
Three of the UK’s biggest ISPs are already on board — BT, Carphone Warehouse, and Virgin Media — so a large proportion of the population could well be exposed to this.
The “Open Internet Exchange” online advertising platform will use the surfing history of individual customers to display relevant advertising on participating sites. It’s good news for advertisers — an example cited is that, instead of someone advertising golf equipment only on golf-related sites, and hoping Internet users go to that site, they can now advertise on any web site directly to a user who shows some propensity for golf.
Feeling nervous yet? It may not bother the Facebook generation too much, but at least that’s opt-in (no matter how dumb some users are about their personal online safety).
Though Phorm reckons it will guarantee anonymity by tracking individuals with a unique ID only, three have been so many cock-ups recently involving personal data that consumers might be worried about this new development — if they’re even told about it.
It’s going to be interesting to see just how open the ISPs are about what’s happening with data they hold about you. It will likely affect around two-thirds of UK Internet users, so it’s not a minor issue if there is a breach of privacy.