Greetings. Given the CCTV surveillance fetish in the UK these days, it seems somehow sickly appropriate that British ISPs are in the forefront when it comes to spying on the content of their subscribers' Web browsing — and it appears that Google users are in the bull's-eye.
Most of the related media attention so far has revolved around the manner in which the three largest UK ISPs have gone to bed with “Phorm” — toward the goal of monetizing Web browsing habits of subscribers and providing targeted ads ( http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/29/phorm_roundup/ ).
Of course, there's a lot “soothing” promotional blather on the BT site claiming that the data collected regarding the sites that you visit is quickly deleted or anonymized. And while officially the ISPs claim that they haven't made a decision about opt-out vs. opt-in, the current British Telecom limited deployment — they call the “service” “Webwise” ( http://webwise.bt.com/webwise/index.html ) and promote it as mainly an anti-phishing system — appears to be opt-out (requiring either maintaining a special cookie in your browser or blocking all cookies from a particular site).
Third-party tracking of the Web sites that you visit is bad enough, but Webwise (and presumably the other incarnations of the Phorm system) go one big step farther — they actually spy on your Web content and extract for their own use the search terms that you enter into search engines:
“We [Webwise] use the website address, keywords and search terms from the page viewed to match a category or area of interest (e.g., travel or finance).”
Given that the vast majority of searches these days are conducted with Google, it's obvious that this ISP-based system will be attempting to monetize the vast number of search transactions between users and Google, in a technical manner that seems eerily similar to wiretapping.
What is this, an epidemic?