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Volume 495: debated on Friday 3 July 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will publish his Department's replies to the European Communications Commissioner's letters of 30 June 2008, 6 October 2008 and January 2009 on Phorm. (277775)

It is not the Government's policy to publish such correspondence. Publication of these letters has already been sought by members of the public under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Each request has been refused, and this position has not changed.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills what recent representations he has received on the compliance with UK and EU legislation of the use of Phorm's targeted online advertising technology by internet service providers. (280982)

In April 2008, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued a statement on the use of Phorm under UK law:

A further Government statement was issued on 16 September 2008 (as follows).

Since the latter statement was released, neither this Department nor its predecessor Departments have received any further representations on the compliance of Phorm's technology.

The Government statement of September 2008 was as follows:

The UK is committed to providing a high level of consumer protection. We take our community obligations very seriously especially in the area of data protection and e-privacy. The possible future use of Phorm technology has raised material concerns in this area and the UK authorities are working to ensure that if it is introduced into the market for internet based advertising services, this is done in a lawful, appropriate and transparent fashion.

After conducting its inquiries with Phorm the UK authorities consider that Phorm's products are capable of being operated in this fashion on the following basis:

the user profiling occurs with the knowledge and agreement of the customer;

the profile is based on a unique ID allocated at random which means that there is no need to know the identity of the individual users;

Phorm does not keep a record of the actual sites visited;

search terms used by the user and the advertising categories exclude certain sensitive terms and have been widely drawn so as not to reveal the identity of the user;

Phorm does not have nor want information which would enable it to link a user ID and profile to a living individual;

users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise a choice about whether to be involved; and

users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme.

Future developments involving Phorm will be closely scrutinised and monitored by the enforcement authorities.