Their Work

When they launched their campaign against Phorm the privacy pirates resolved that the tactic they would deploy against the company would be “guerrilla warfare” in the media. Their openly-stated objective is to try to harm the company through negative PR.

This is how “jd”, a senior member of NODPI, describes their tactics (post of 13 April): “A PR disaster for Phorm, BT and any other ISPs that sign up is exactly the way in my mind to tackle this. The press in the UK love sensation, and we get our message out through sensational claims. It’s the way things work here.”

According to Alexander Hanff, one of the prime movers of the smear campaign against Phorm: “THAT is why we are campaigning against you. THAT is why your shares have dropped 90% over the last 9 months. THAT is why you have gone from a 1 Billion USD company to a 60M USD company. THAT is why I will continue to campaign until either you run out of money or you are banned from operating in the UK/EU.”

There are half a dozen key organisers. Their modus operandi, which follows a well-trodden path, is to invent an alarming story – the more frightening the better. One of their favourite tactics is to trawl through government papers released under a plethora of “Freedom of Information” (FOI) enquiries, seeking to find contradictions and inconsistencies which they then feed back to a small number of public officials in the UK and EU to raise further questions.

Not wishing to subject themselves to public scrutiny (or perhaps preferring to preserve their anonymity), the pirates then make every effort to tie into their narrative a well-known public figure, such as an MP, MEP or EU official, or a government agency, such as the police, the CPS or even the UK Information Commissioner. As “jd” has already told us, the privacy pirates thrive on “sensation”.

Having in this manner added a touch of credibility to their sensational claim, they then stage an “event” – such as the physical act of handing in a baseless complaint to the police – and then aggressively report it using their own websites and blogs, as if it were a genuine news story rather than a stage-managed piece of theatre. The pirates then quickly feed their reports back to the mainstream and tech media, who quite often re-publish them as if they were genuine news stories.

As soon as Phorm issues a denial or correction, the privacy pirates seize on its response to misrepresent the denial, frequently claiming that Phorm’s denial is a “lie” – thereby compounding and maximising the original smear.

Beware anyone who dares to disagree. Journalists who write balanced stories, advertising and web publisher representatives who lift the veil on the pirates’ tactics, or even unfortunate fellow bloggers who refuse to tow the party line – they are all swarmed by “letter-writers” and oddballs who intimidate and bully the poor unfortunate.

Take the example of the Blackbeaks Blog. This carried a post on 14 June 2008 that was considered heresy since it did not accept the pirates’ version of “the truth” about Phorm. NODPI responded by waging a concerted and merciless campaign against the site. Several individuals well known for their virulent stance on Phorm - including Alexander Hanff, Dephormation, Florence and Oblonsky – attacked the author in unsavoury and intimidating language.

Having achieved their negative headline, the pirates quickly move on to the next smear. And the process starts all over again …Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.