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Telstra didn't collect personal info: Privacy Commissioner

The Australian Privacy Commissioner did not launch an investigation into Telstra's Next G web-browsing data collection because he said it did not collect personal information.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has revealed that he did not launch an investigation into Telstra's secret collection of customer browsing history for a new cybersafety tool because personal information was not collected.

In June, Telstra was caught tracking its Next G customers' web browsing, and sending that data to US-based filtering company Netsweeper for the purpose of building a database of sites for a new cybersafety tool called Smart Controls. Smart Controls is designed to block certain categories of sites from appearing on Telstra mobiles whose owners have signed up for the service.

The company ceased the tracking when it was caught, but claimed that it had been removing customer information from the URL before sending that data to the United States. Telstra said that as a result, no personal customer information was passed on to Netsweeper.

At the time, the Privacy Commissioner said that he was in contact with Telstra with a view to launch an investigation into a potential breach of privacy. Following questions from ZDNet on Monday, Pilgrim said that no investigation was ultimately launched.

"The OAIC [Office of the Australian Information Commissioner] did not conduct a formal investigation into the Telstra Next G Netsweeper matter. We considered the issue raised by this product, and in doing so held discussions with Telstra and obtained additional information from them about its application," Pilgrim said.

"The OAIC was not presented with any evidence that personal information was collected and disclosed to Netsweeper. We did not receive any complaints from individuals about this matter."

On Monday, Telstra said that it has since redesigned Smart Controls as an "opt-in" product, where people who are interested in blocking content could allow Telstra to track their web browsing.

Pilgrim said that seeking community views of the proposal prior to launch is the right move.

"I am pleased to see that prior to relaunching the service Telstra is currently seeking the community's views on this product and I encourage people to have their say," he said.

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