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Telstra Revealed Over 140,000 ‘Silent Numbers’: ACMA

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The telco faces a potential $10 million penalty for breaching the privacy of customers.

An investigation by Australia’s communications watchdog has revealed that telco giant Telstra published the names, addresses, and numbers of over 140,000 customers on more than 163,000 occasions.

These customers had requested their numbers to be unlisted or “silent” so that their personal details do not appear in public directories.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that most of the incidents occurred between 2021 and 2022. During this period, some customers had their unlisted numbers and details published in the White Pages, a directory of personal contact information accessible both online and in print.

The authority’s consumer lead Samantha Yorke said the communication carrier noted the gravity of the issue.

“While we are not aware of any harm to people as a result of these breaches, Telstra failing to safeguard customer information, putting people’s privacy and safety at risk, is a serious matter,” Ms. Yorke said on July 10.

“Telstra is entrusted with personal details of millions of Australians and those people have the right to expect that Telstra has robust systems and processes in place to ensure their information is being protected.”

Why It Happened

Telstra said the affected customers have been notified about the remedies, attributing the release of unlisted numbers to system issues and procedural failures.

“Since it occurred, we have significantly upgraded our systems through major software and technology improvements and we conduct regular sweeps to pick up any potential misalignments,” a Telstra spokesperson said.

In response to the breach, the nation’s communications watchdog set out some requirements for the company, including regularly comparing customer data between the White Pages and its internal database every six months.

Additionally, Telstra is required to implement a staff training program and undergo independent audits of its systems and compliance procedures.

Failure to comply could lead to legal action, potentially resulting in substantial financial penalties for the company.

“If Telstra breaches the direction the ACMA may commence civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court where Telstra could face pecuniary penalties of up to $10 million per contravention,” ACMA said.

This comes as the telco giant lifts the prices for most of its mobile phone plans, with some rising by up to 4 percent, higher than the inflation rate.

Following this price increase announcement on July 9, Telstra shares gained 1.8 percent to a three-month high of $3.80. Telecommunications shares have been rising despite broader declines across every sector of the ASX.

Telstra executive Brad Whitcomb said the decision was not made easily, especially in the current climate.

“Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that telecommunications pricing, which covers all telecommunications equipment and services beyond just mobile price, have not increased for consumers anywhere near the rate of other consumer household goods and services over the last decade,” Mr. Whitcomb said in a statement.

“In fact, according to this data in eight of the last 10 years, those prices have actually deflated.”

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