Small compared to several million

BT’s ‘illegal’ 2007 Phorm trial profiled tens of thousands | The Register

Phorm sent us this statement:

We confirmed in our 2006 Financial Statement that we had concluded the trial announced on 19 July 2006 and were about to start a larger trial in 2007. In reality, the 2007 test was actually smaller than was planned at the point this statement was issued. At its peak, it involved tens of thousands of users for a couple of days, not the several hundred thousand as anticipated.

Don Foster MP, a Liberal Democrat who has taken a lead in parliament over the Phorm controversy, has called on BT to reveal the details of its allegedly illegal action. Branding BT’s role in the secret trials “disgraceful”, he said: “It’s time for BT to come clean about exactly what happened last summer and why customers were kept in the dark while they were used as guinea pigs.”

Instead, Emma Sanderson, the BT Retail executive offered to television news for interviews last week parroted the line that no personally identifiable information had been disclosed. She said the tests were “small scale”.

If you think about it, though, tens of thousands of users is pretty small-scale. For a serious overestimate, let’s say that 10,000 users visited 1000 pages an hour for 10 hours a day. That would be all of 100 million URLs. You could fit the whole dataset in an ipod nano. My PC is going on five years old, and with just the tiniest bit of indexing you could hold all the information in RAM and throw statistical-analysis software at it for fun.

Which potentially means that phorm and the ISPs it’s working with have no idea how their software and hardware will perform under real loads, and are silently signing up entire subscriber bases as unknowing alpha testers. Whee.


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