[Channel 4 News] British Telecom admits spying on customers

BT Skills
2008.04.03

By Bridgid Nzekwu:

BT has admitted that it secretly monitored customers’ internet surfing activities in trials of new software in 2006 and 2007.

Channel 4 News at Noon first reported this story a month ago after being contacted by a concerned consumer. The data protection watchdog is investigating this possible breach of the law which could have affected thousands of BT customers. Our Money Reporter, Bridgid Nzekwu reports

Stephen Mainwaring from Weston Super Mare is one very angry BT customer. Last year, after noticing strange goings-on on his computer he contacted his internet service provider BT, who told him he had a virus. But in fact it was nothing of the kind. He’d been part of a secret BT trial to track customers surfing behaviour.

“I ran a lot of virus scans, updates and things. I even bought new PC, but as soon as I plugged it in started coming up with problem. BT kept insisting it was a virus, and it’s not. It turns out they were doing secret tests.” – Stephen Mainwaring, BT customer

The technology used was developed by a company called Phorm. Their software uses anonymous data gleaned from surfing activity and matches relevant adverts to people’s interests.

Phorm claims it’s a major benefit both to consumers and advertisers. But BT is now accused of spying and has admitted it didn’t tell its customers what it was doing.

“It was individuals who suspected that this was happening to them, who then confronted BT and BT prevaricated for a very long time. It is only now at the beginning of 2008 that BT has admitted that’s what were doing.

“Frankly that was disgraceful by BT to have done it, it would be huge diminution of our rights as individuals if this whole system is allowed to go ahead without us all being given the opportunity to opt in or out” – Don Foster, Lib Dem Culture Spokesman

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