Telstra will stop tracking Next G customers' web browsing history and sending that data to the United States, following criticism from the public relating to privacy issues.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Telstra has been tracking URLs visited by customers, and sending that data to US-based filtering company Netsweeper to build a database of sites for a new cybersafety tool called Smart Controls. Smart Controls is reported to block certain sites from appearing on Telstra mobiles whose owners have signed up for the service.
Telstra said yesterday that no customer information is being sent along with the URL information; however, several users have expressed concern that information is being sent without their prior knowledge to the US, where the Patriot Act gives the government access to data hosted there.
Telstra today announced that it will stop tracking customer data in response to customer concerns.
"We are stopping all collection of website addresses for the development of this new product," Telstra said in a statement.
"The data Telstra recorded was anonymous; only the website addresses were captured. There was no information captured or kept that would link specific customers with the websites they visit."
Telstra apologised for the concerns caused by the tracking.
The Privacy Commissioner told ZDNet Australia that it is making inquiries with Telstra about the issue, but would not say whether an investigation will be launched.
Narelle Smythe, partner with law firm Clayton Utz said that Telstra's actions would only have breached Australian privacy law if people can be identified by the information contained in the URLs sent offshore.
"The Privacy Act only covers personal information, so if you effectively de-identify it, the Privacy Act wouldn't cover it," she said. "But obviously you'd need to know exactly what's going to then determine whether that threshold for whether it is personal information has been met."
Netsweeper, the company that Telstra tasked to build its web filter, has had its share of controversy in the past. Last year, the company was reportedly discovered to have provided internet filtering services to Middle Eastern governments that sought to block their citizens from accessing websites about homosexuality, sex education and human-rights advocacy, as well as a number of news sites.
Updated at 3.34pm, 27 June 2012: added comment from Smythe.