Telstra has admitted to tracking the websites visited by Next G mobile customers, as part of the development of a voluntary internet filtering system.
The tracking was first picked up by members of the Australian Network Operators group, who noticed that requests made to a web server from port 80 on a Telstra mobile device, would immediately be followed by a request from an IP address in the US, hosted by Rackspace.
After inquiries on the anomaly by ZDNet Australia, Telstra today came clean and admitted that it is working on a new cybersafety tool called Smart Controls, that will block certain sites from appearing on Telstra mobiles that are signed up for the service.
"We will shortly launch a cybersafety tool that allows parents to specify the website categories their kids can browse. To prepare for this, we are working with a company called Netsweeper to ensure web content is accurately characterised," Telstra said in a statement.
Telstra said that Netsweeper has an extensive database of URLs, but when customers try to reach new domains not previously included in the database, the URL is sent to Netsweeper by Telstra.
"Netsweeper analyses the content to determine whether it fits categories parents may want to prevent their kids accessing — for instance, pornography or gambling sites," the company said.
"Once a new site has been recognised, there is no subsequent need for Telstra to access the site, so checking content contained in URLs will decrease over time, as the network 'educates' itself."
All customer data is left out of the information being shared with the US company, according to Telstra.
"No customer data is sought, stored or shared in this process. Customers who subscribe to the cybersafety tool will temporarily have browsing history stored for assurance purposes. This history is automatically deleted within 60 days."
The service will, ultimately, be opt-in, Telstra said.
The company also quickly moved to update its terms and conditions online (PDF) today, to include information about Smart Control.
The issue has already caught the eye of Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam, who said today that he had been in touch with Telstra's government affairs representative on the matter.
Network engineer Mark Newton has already contacted Telstra about the data collection in an open letter, and has indicated his intention to complain to the Privacy Commissioner about the company sending his data overseas without permission.
More to come.