Phorm might be the least loved Internet company in the UK, but it is no longer the quietest.
Having demurred to defend itself against charges of running a spyware operation through trail ISPs BT, Virgin Media and Talk Talk (none of which are exactly loved themselves), the company has hit back this week with a tool, Webwise Discover, ostensibly to help users get more out of website content by making helpful suggestions on what to view.
What it does in detail is slightly involved, but suffice to say that it suggests content based on a user's previous Internet behaviour. The company's trouble stemmed, remember, from civil liberty concerns about its system doing exactly the same but in order to push ads, so the development is meant to be user friendly.
The problem with Phorm was always the feeling that its system was tracking users without getting full consent from those being observed, or at least explaining itself to users so they would properly understand the level of consent they were giving. Its problems from there onwards have been about how one allows users to opt out, or opt in, as many say should be the case.
The vox pop on Webwise Discover slightly dodges the issue of course. Do the people enthusing about it really understand what it is the system is doing? And who has actually used it in anger outside the company. Apparently nobody beyond a single tie-up announced in far-off Korea.
It's odd that Phorm's many suspicious critics are slating a system they've never used. But it's also odd that the company is so actively promoting one that none of us can actually use without signing up for an ISP using Webwise, which is to say nobody. The day when an ISP takes Webwise from ‘trial' to full deployment looks about as near as it ever did, which is to say nobody really knows.