Report: BT Tracked 18,000 Subscribers for Ad Targeting

A new outcry in the U.K. today about ISPs’ interest in tracking Internet users for ad targeting purposes. The source this time: a news report claiming that BT tested a system for tracking and serving ads to 18,000 of its broadband subscribers without their consent.

According to documents obtained by The Register, the 2006 technology trial was undertaken in partnership with adware firm 121Media, which is now called Phorm. The pilot reportedly involved an earlier iteration of Phorm’s technology which inserted JavaScript tags onto pages visited by BT subscribers; these were used to call up ads. That eventually led to a major deal for consumer tracking deal between Phorm and the three largest U.K. ISPs: BT, Virgin Media, and TalkTalk.

U.K. newspapers and public interest groups have loudly protested the development. A dedicated protest site was created at badphorm.co.uk, and a Web page has been set up to petition the Prime Minister to scrutinize the practices.

The U.S. reaction to such practices has been more muted, partly because no ISPs have publicly announced relationships with behavior tracking vendors such as Phorm and NebuAd. However numerous ISPs have been testing such technologies here on the sly, trying to assess the potential backlash and profit potential.

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