Online behavioural advertising (or “OBA” to jargon junkies) is becoming increasingly important to businesses that advertise on line. In simple terms, OBA is the practice of sending targeted online advertisement to an Internet user based on their online habits and browser history.

The PR disaster triggered by advertisement network operator Phorm, recently highlighted OBA technologies and the legal basis of their use. Phorm caused controversy when it developed its own OBA technology, “Webwise”, which operated by partnering with Internet service providers to monitor users’ complete web behaviour (also referred to as “deep packet inspection”). This was then trialled without the users’ knowledge. This raises not only data protection issues but also issues around the EU e-privacy rules and the unlawful interception of online communications.

Whilst the UK’s regulatory authorities had previously given the green light to OBA technology, complaints from users and lobby groups have led the European Commission to investigate the use of OBA technologies in the UK. The investigation is ongoing but any businesses using OBA technology should consider adopting the Internet Advertising Bureau’s self-regulatory guidelines, which propose best practice steps for businesses that collect user data and monitor users’ browsing habits for advertising purposes.

The guidelines are available online at