Amazon becomes first website to block Phorm tracking

LONDON - Amazon UK has become the first high-profile website to stop behavioural targeting firm Phorm scanning its web pages to produce targeted ads.

The online retailer was responding to a letter from a customer who had written expressing his concerns over Phorm's Webwise system.

UK-based Phorm builds a profile of users by scanning for keywords on websites visited and then serves relevant ads to that user, on whatever site they subsequently visit.

The service is controversial because the issue of whether user consent is needed to conduct such tracking is not clear in UK law.

Last month the Open Rights Group wrote to the world's leading websites, including Google/Youtube, Facebook, AOL/Bebo, Yahoo and Ebay, asking them to opt out of Phorm.

Earlier this week the European Commission announced that it is starting legal action against the UK over its data protection laws in relation to Phorm's technology. The EC believes UK law should reflect the need for consent from users.

Amazon responded that it has "no connections with Phorm" and confirmed that it had "emailed Webwise requesting we 'opt-out' for all of our domains".

Phorm said it does not comment "on individual cases" but that a process exists "to allow publishers to contact Phorm and opt out of the system".

The technology company attracted controversy last year when it conducted trials of its Webwise technology with British Telecom.

At ISBA's conference in March, Internet Advertising Bureau chairman Richard Eyre described online behavioural targeting as a "game changer" for advertisers.

Amazon itself was embroiled in controversy at the weekend when its cataloging system removed thousands of books from sale, many of which contain gay-related material. The company denied it had a censorship policy and blamed an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error" for making nearly 60,000 titles impossible to find.