via Daily Motion
The inventor of the world wide web has launched a damning attack on plans to spy on the internet browsing habits of millions of households.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned such technology was even more sinister than allowing companies to install TV cameras in our homes, and said the details revealed could be used by stalkers or foreign agents wanting to blackmail British politicians.
Internet providers BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are all considering a system known as Phorm, which would track the web pages that their 11million customers look at.
The potentially lucrative system creates an anonymous profile of a surfer’s interests which is then used by retailers to target them with relevant adverts.
Phorm insists it is far less intrusive than the existing tracking and profiling of surfers by internet search engines such as Yahoo and Google. It says there is nothing to link a name or address to the profile and customers can also opt out.
However, Sir Tim, 53, told a Parliament summit on privacy laws: ‘It is very important that you can use the internet without a thought that, when we click, a third party will know what we clicked on in a way that might affect how our insurance premium changes, whether we can get life insurance or another job.’
The technical term for monitoring the details of individual’s web surfing is ‘Deep Packet Inspection’.
Sir Tim said this kind of activity provides unprecedented information on an individual.
‘It reveals huge amounts about people’s lives, their loves, their hates and fears. People use the web when they are in a crisis.
‘It is very important that you can use the internet without a thought that, when we click, a third party will know what we clicked on in a way that might effect how our insurance premium changes, whether we can get life insurance or another job.’
He said: ‘To allow somebody to snoop on your internet traffic is like allowing a company to put a television camera in your room, except that it will tell them a whole lot more.
‘I feel that the act of using the internet is something that we must be allowed to do without any interference or snooping.’
Sir Tim said: ‘Once information is collected it can be used later either by the company or an insider.
‘It might be information about the browsing record of a Member of Parliament, it might be used by a foreign power to attack Britain by finding key people, finding out what they have been doing and blackmailing them.
‘There are all sorts of nasty things that might happen. Even a sexual predator might be able to use it to stalk a victim in incredible detail.’
Sir Tim described firms that want to develop and use the technology as the ‘villains in the middle of the network’.
He said: ‘I am embarrassed as a British citizen that this is happening while the US has drawn a very firm line to stop this.’
The internet guru was speaking at a Houses of Parliament event attended by MPs and peers who are considering what if any changes to privacy laws are needed.
The comments will heap pressure on BT, Virgin and Talk Talk to abandon plans to adopt the Phorm system.
Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at University of Southampton, told the meeting: ‘Snooping on the internet is akin to opening our private letters.
‘Monitoring our conversations on the internet, through social network and other sites, is akin to tapping our telephones.
‘This is about who we are and what is private to us in the digital era. Governments need to think about protecting that.’
BT has conducted three customer trials with the Phorm system, including secretly profiling the web browsing of thousands of its customers in 2006.
The ‘stealth’ pilot was carried out without the consent of the customers so may have been illegal under EU law.
Phorm insists it is far less intrusive than the existing tracking and profiling of surfers that is carried out by internet search engines like Yahoo and Google.
It says there is nothing to link a name or address to the profile. At the same time, there is no database of users that is sold to advertisers. Customers can also choose to opt out.
Phorm’s chief executive Kent Ertugrul(correct) rejected the attacks as neo-Luddite and claimed that Sir Tim and other critics do not understand how the technology works.
Mr Ertugrul said: ‘There have been suggestions that something dark and evil has been deployed that gathers up what everybody is doing. But that is exactly how our system does not work.
‘We have created something that reconciles the need for privacy… and the need for commerce.’
Mr Ertugrul said his technology would allow websites to become commercially viable through offering targeted advertising.
Phorm insists its system is far more secure than existing tracking through popular web browsers.
Mr Ertugrul said: ‘I agree there is a problem with privacy today. But the answer is not to go into a sort of neo-Luddite retrenchment but to create a technological fix for the problems that exist. That is what we believe we have done.’