Optus under investigation for White Pages privacy breach

Regulators have opened an investigation into Optus for potential breaches of the Privacy Act, following an incident in which the telco accidentally sent off thousands of customers’ contact details to be published in the White Pages directory against their wishes.

In October 2019 Optus contacted almost 50,000 customers to inform them of the privacy breach, saying it mistakenly released details including names, addresses and mobile phone numbers to Sensis, the company that produces the White Pages.

Optus customers’ details were published in the White Pages without their consent.Credit:Viki Lascaris

At the time Optus apologised and had Sensis scrub the customers’ information from its online directory, but many details were also printed in the physical editions.

This week, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said it was investigating the issue and its potential privacy ramifications after previously making inquiries.

“The public disclosure of personal information against the wishes of individuals may have the potential to cause harm,” wrote the OAIC in announcing the investigation.

“The OAIC’s investigations can determine whether such matters involve systematic issues that can be prevented by ensuring the right practices are in place.”

The action follows a similar incident in 2014 that saw the details of more than 100,000 Optus customers published in the White Pages without their consent. In response to that incident and others, in 2015 the OAIC directed Optus to undertake independant reviews of its procedures.

In keeping with the OAIC’s policy, it is making no further comment on the matter while the investigation is underway.

An Optus spokesperson said the company took the protection of its customers’ personal information very seriously.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with the OAIC on this historic matter,” the spokesperson said.

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