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BT avoids online privacy case

Posted on 14th April 2011 in Industry News, Insight
Written by: Fiona Rickard

BT, the UK’s largest home internet provider, will not face government legal action over an online behavioural targeting initiative.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that it will not prosecute BT and Phorm for conducting a 2006 trial of a technology called Page Sense.

Around 18,000 customers participated without their prior knowledge. The initiative sparked consumer privacy concerns after being made public.

Page Sense worked by scanning the web pages viewed by individual users, and then serving targeted ads based on this behaviour. All data monitored during the trial was anonymised.  BT subsequently said that no laws had been broken by the trial. The broadband provider’s relationship with Phorm ended in 2009.  Data collection in such a secretive manner may not be a breach of the privacy laws in this country but it is morally unacceptable to consumers.  Cases such as this can only harm the marketing industry which relies on various bona fide methods of collecting data and insight to give us the edge in setting effective marketing strategies for companies and brands.  I hope the high profile publicity surrounding this case (although not brought to prosecution) will make unscrupulous companies think again about how they gather data of any kind.  Collectively every organisation that works in the marketing arena has a responsibility to improve consumer perceptions of such activity.