In the week Virgin Media launched broadband services capable of up to 50Mbits/s, the UK's largest ISP appears to have endorsed a less appealing feature of its network. The company is to persist with its controversial use of the Phorm web snooping system.
According to carefully-chosen comments in an interview in The Guardian, Virgin's CEO Neil Berkett has underlined the company's strong interest in Phorm, which the company could use to deliver targeted advertising to users based on web browsing habits.
The system is controversial because its use entails relating websites visited to real accounts, thus breaching the unwritten Internet principle of privacy and the personal control of information.
The company's bravery in even mentioning Phorm - which has severely irked some users - probably has something to do with the announcement by BT last week that it too planned to move from trials of Phorm to a full deployment. That news helped Phorm's shares to soar by 40 percent, albeit after a year in which the shares have lost much of their value.
In addition to BT and Virgin, Carphone Warehouse subsidiary TalkTalk has also been trialling the technology, together accounting for a fair chunk if the UK broadband market, hence the rising worries.
"There will be a point in time when we use the intelligence of our network for targeted advertising, will it be with Phorm, will it be with a modification of their product?, said Berkett to the Guardian, before qualifying this statement in a way the potential for trouble its brings with it.
"I think it is a technique, but it is not something I want to rush into. We have got a fantastic brand and we want to take our customers with us," he said.
The companies have all along stressed the possibility of customer opt-out from being tracked by the technology, as they are legally required to do in the UK, but critics have doubted its worth. Phorm, meanwhile, has sought to play down its origins as a spyware or ‘adware' company during its days trading as Delaware-registered 121media.
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