Touring the digital through type

Tag: phorm

Agenda Denial and UK Privacy Advocacy

stopFunding, technical and political savvy, human resources, and time. These are just a few of the challenges standing before privacy advocates who want to make their case to the public, legislators, and regulators. When looking at the landscape there are regularly cases where advocates are more successful than expected or markedly less than anticipated; that advocates stopped BT from permanently deploying Phorm’s Webwise advertising system was impressive, whereas the failures to limit transfers of European airline passenger data to the US were somewhat surprising.[1] While there are regular analyses of how privacy advocates might get the issue of the day onto governmental agendas there is seemingly less time spent on how opponents resist advocates’ efforts. This post constitutes an early attempt to work through some of the politics of agenda-setting related to deep packet inspection and privacy for my dissertation project. Comments are welcome.

To be more specific, in this post I want to think about how items are kept off the agenda. Why are they kept off, who engages in the opposition(s), and what are some of the tactics employed? In responding to these questions I will significantly rely on theory from R. W. Cobb’s and M. H. Ross’ Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial, linked with work by other prominent scholars and advocates. My goal is to evaluate whether the strategies that Cobb and Ross write about apply to the issues championed by privacy advocates in the UK who oppose the deployment of the Webwise advertising system. I won’t be working through the technical or political backstory of Phorm in this post and will be assuming that readers have at least a moderate familiarity with the backstory of Phorm – if you’re unfamiliar with it, I’d suggest a quick detour to the wikipedia page devoted to the company.

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UK Government Responds to Phorm Petition

ignoretextThe UK is in a bit of a bad row. According the BBC news site, today the Speaker of the Commons has stepped down, there is an Irish child abuse report coming due, and violence is rife in a failing prison. What hasn’t made BBC headlines, is that the Prime Minister’s office has made it clear that it will not look into British ISPs’ business arrangements with Phorm. After noting that the government is interested in shielding citizens’ privacy, the Prime Minister’s office notes,

ICO is an independent body, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to second guess its decisions.  However, ICO has been clear that it will be monitoring closely all progress on this issue, and in particular any future use of Phorm’s technology.  They will ensure that any such future use is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent manner, and that consumers’ rights are fully protected (Source).

The Prime Minister’s office is unwilling to ‘second guess’ the ICO, and instead refers petitioners (there were about 21,000) to the ICO’s public statement about Phorm. In that publication (dated April 8, 2009), the ICO stated that that:

Indeed, Phorm assert that their system has been designed specifically to allow the appropriate targeting of adverts whilst rigorously protecting the privacy of web users. They clearly recognise the need to address the concerns raised by a number of individuals and organisations including the Open Rights Group (Source).

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