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25 March, 2008

How to disable Phorm

It goes without saying that online traffic analysis imposed by certain ISPs should be opt-in, never opt-out, but given that Phorm is being propagated by the wrong means, it's worth mentioning the easiest way to partially disable it.

Quite simply, add '' to your browser's Blocked Cookies list. If I discover any aliases, I'll let you know; I'd appreciate it if others could reciprocate.

That's naïve rubbish, of course: it does nothing to prevent the more insidious data collection at the ISP's end of one's net connection, but again it eliminates any ambiguity about alleged tacit approval.

[Update 06/04/08: Re-reading that, I suspect it's a bit misleading.

Blocking the tracking cookie prevents a unique identifier being passed back to Phorm, so prevents targetted adverts being served, but it is not an opt-out, and is considered a tacit opt-in to other forms of tracking. As mentioned, Phorm still has access to data collected from ISPs' servers, and user agents (that use port 80, anyway) other than one's browser are still tracked. For example, if one uses the Apple Software Update utility (which connects to the internet independently of a browser), that's theoretically still trackable. That's even more of a risk with MS Office, as it uses the IE user agent.

To properly opt-out, one needs a specific 'opt-out' cookie from Phorm; obtaining that may also count as an opt-out from the server-side tracking, but I wouldn't rely on that.

An alternative for Firefox users would be to install the 'Dephormation' plugin, which generates a Phorm opt-out cookie with every page load and randomises the unique identifier, so even if Phorm ignore the opt-out, they get nonsense data.

Again, truly opting out by these means relies on the instruction being honoured by a company with a history in the spyware industry. You may wish to take the more reliable step of changing your ISP, from one working with Phorm to one which doesn't. If a sufficient number of people make this decision, perhaps the ISPs will get the message too.]


Firefox has a hidden preference that blocks all third-party cookies (like the Phorm one) - look it up on Google.

Posted by Neil T. at March 26, 2008 11:29 AM

Many thanks, Neil. I've written it up here, to spread the word.

Posted by NRT at March 26, 2008 12:38 PM
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