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EU Not OK With UK Handling of ‘Covert’ Behavioral Advertising Tactics

It’s been awhile since we last blogged about Phorm, the UK company proposing to partner with ISPs to create behavioral profiles of their subscribers for use in targeted advertising. Over the past several months, the European Commission and the UK government have been enagaged in a policy ping-pong of sorts, with the EU continuing to press the UK on the government’s conclusion that the Phorm system passes muster with EU privacy law, and the UK continuing to express its approval of the company’s practices. The Commission opened a new chapter today by opening a formal legal proceeding against the UK government. PC World has the details:

The European Commission began legal action against the U.K. Tuesday over its failure to protect Internet users from Phorm — a covert behavioral advertising technology tested by the U.K.’s biggest fixed line operator, BT, in 2006 and 2007. The move signals growing concern in Brussels over the way new Internet-based technologies are using people’s personal data. In addition to taking legal action against the U.K., the Commission also issued a general warning to all 27 E.U. countries to uphold privacy laws, especially regarding social-networking Web sites and users of RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies. The Commission, the executive body of the European Union responsible for upholding laws, said the U.K. had failed to enforce E.U. data protection and privacy rules, because broadband Internet subscribers were not informed that their browsing was being tracked. “We have been following the Phorm case for some time and have concluded that there are problems in the way the U.K. has implemented parts of E.U. rules on the confidentiality of communications,” said Viviane Reding, the E.U.’s telecom commissioner. She called on the U.K. to change its national laws and ensure that its national privacy authority is given greater powers to tackle privacy threats from emerging technologies. “This should allow the U.K. to respond more vigorously to new challenges to eprivacy and personal data protection such as those that have arisen in the Phorm case. It should also help reassure U.K. consumers about their privacy and data protection while surfing the Internet,” Reding said.