UK declines to prosecute BT, Phorm over spying software

The Crown Prosecution Service maintains a trial would not be in the public's interest

After a more than two-year investigation, U.K. prosecutors will not bring a case against BT and an online advertising software company for running secret trials of software that monitored people's Web browsing without their consent.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Friday it had not reviewed all of the evidence but had seen enough to conclude that a prosecution of BT and the company Phorm was not in the public interest.

BT ran three trials of Phorm's Webwise software, which monitors a person's Web browsing and search terms in order to serve up related advertisements. Two of those trials -- one involving about 18,000 BT broadband subscribers in September and October of 2006 -- did not obtain consent of users.

The trials were brought to the attention of the CPS by digital rights activists, who maintained BT and Phorm broke the law by not obtaining consent from users.

They contended the companies potentially violated the U.K.'s Data Protection Act, which mandates that personal data can't be processed without consent. The trials could have also conflicted with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000, which makes it illegal to monitor communication between two entities without proper consent.

However, the CPS said both companies received legal advice from agencies such as the Home Office that the trials did not violate RIPA. The U.K.'s data privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office, also said there was no significant detriment to those who were included in the secret trials, and that if taken to court, the companies would likely have faced only a nominal penalty.

After running the second trial, BT received conflicting legal advice that led the company to make the third trial public and open, the CPS said.

"As there was no evidence to suggest either company acted in bad faith, it could be reasonably argued that any offending was the result of an honest mistake or genuine misunderstanding of the law," the CPS said in a statement on its website.

Phorm's Webwise system places a cookie on users' computers that contains an anonymous user ID that is associated with certain categories, such as "cameras" or "computers," which determines the ads a person may see on Web pages that use Phorm. Phorm contended the data was anonymized and could not be traced back to an individual user.

Although Phorm had drawn interest from other U.K. broadband providers, the conflict over the trials hurt the company as prospective partners stepped away.

The company reduced the size of its U.K. staff last year while opening an office in Brazil, where it launched a product called Navegador with operator Oi last month and a trial of the same product with Telefonica last year, according to a financial report released on Sept. 30, 2010.

Send news tips and comments to

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags PhormBTsecuritylegalCrown Prosecution Serviceprivacy

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

Xiro Drone Xplorer V -3 Axis Gimbal & 1080p Full HD 14MP Camera

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things


Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on PC World

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?