Two podcasts on Telstra’s web monitoring ultragaffe

A couple weeks ago Telstra was caught monitoring the web browsing done by customers of its Next G mobile network and reporting them to an overseas company, Netsweeper. I’m writing more about this soon, so here’s some background so I can link to it.

Josh Taylor explained the story for ZDNet Australia, I did for Crikey, and of course there were others. In brief, though, Telstra told Netsweeper what URLs were being visited by Next G customers — in theory with any personally-identifiable information removed — so Netsweeper could discover new web content and classify it for the content filtering system they were developing for Telstra.

It’s a bit wrong. Telstra stopped the project quick smart. But some people, including me, reckon the situation is rather more serious.

Geoff Huston, chief scientist of regional internet registry Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), reckons it’s so far outside the law that law enforcement agencies should be getting involved. As a common-carrier telco, Telstra is in a privileged position. It shouldn’t be reporting anything about any aspect of digital communications to third parties, except as strictly required under law, just as it can’t do anything with analog phone calls.

Huston explained his views in a blog post, All Your Packets Belong to Us, and discussed it with me on this week’s Patch Monday podcast, Hands off our packets, it’s the law.

You can hear Telstra’s PR response on Phil Dobbie’s Twisted Wire podcast, Is your phone watching you?

(Neither of those podcasts are yet appearing in iTunes or other podcast application feeds. On Monday ZDNet Australia was merged into a new global content management system and the podcast feeds broke. I know the CBS Interactive technicians know it’s a problem, but I don’t have an ETA on when it might be fixed yet.)

On Tuesday, Whirlpool had what purported to be an internal Telstra memo from chief executive David Thodey, who seemed to agree that they’d very much crossed the line.

That’s why I want to remind everyone that privacy is not an aspiration at Telstra — it is an essential requirement and our license to operate.

Privacy at Telstra is everyone’s responsibility. We have to do better.

Now there’s some complicated issues in all this. I’ll be exploring them in the coming week. Meanwhile, do listen to those two podcasts and have a bit of a think.

Telstra closes blog, loses friends

Crikey logo

Australia’s biggest telco closed down their corporate blog nowwearetalking without warning yesterday — and deleted all the content. While I can understand they want to put the often-controversial forum behind them, I think the move was a mistake.

I’ve already written about this for Crikey, Telstra consigns nowwearetalking to the memory hole. It seems odd to kill NWAT just as it was changing for the better – even more so given there’s no replacement. There’s comments from Stephen Collins and Fake Stephen Conroy, as well as Telstra’s official spokesperson Craig Middleton. It’s free to read. Off you go.

But I’d also like to publish the full interviews I did for that story. So here they are.

Continue reading “Telstra closes blog, loses friends”

Why all corporate PR droids should be shot

Photographs of Michael Harte and David ThodeyImagine this. You’ve just won a contract worth a billion dollars against stiff competition. How do you feel? Thrilled? At least, you know, a little bit pleased with yourself? Apparently not.

“The Commonwealth Bank is embarking on a significant transformation project and we are delighted to be a key partner. Through Telstra’s own transformation we have invested in world class networks and services and alliances with leading partners. We look forward to bringing these advances to the partnership to offer real benefits to the group, its customers and staff,” David Thodey [pictured left], Telstra’s group managing director enterprise and government said in a statement.

What bullshit!

Australia’s biggest telco Telstra just signed a 10-year deal to provide telecommunications and managed services to Australia’s biggest bank, the Commonwealth. The deal’s worth $100M a year. There’s bound to be some fascinating details which make this all very special. If nothing else, it’s worth a shitload of money — and that’s something to get excited about.

That paragraph of meaningless management wafflespeak is the reaction? There’s not a single fucking concrete noun in the damn thing!

Got any words of thanks for the hard-working staff who helped you win this deal, David? No.

Things aren’t any better on the Commonwealth’s side.

“Our arrangement with Telstra is a partnership which is directly focused on customer satisfaction through well-defined shared goals, commitments and business outcomes. This is the first time we have struck a deal of this kind,” the Commonwealth Bank’s CIO Michael Harte [pictured right] said in a statement.

Well of course the deal is focussed on customer satisfaction! You don’t set up deals to create dissatisfied customers, do you? Why not tell us why Telstra won? I think they’d have liked that.

Now I blame neither David Thodey nor Michael Harte for this idiotic language. I assume they have highly-paid corporate communications specialists to handle this sort of thing.

Those people should be shot.

This is probably one of the biggest business deals around this week, yet they’ve managed to drain every possible speck of colour and life from it — in the process portraying their bosses as drab, emotionless cyphers.

Read the full Telstra media release [PDF] for yourself. It’s pathetic. And the Commonwealth hasn’t even managed to get its version online yet.

Dear PR Droids, if you can’t manage to communicate the excitement of a billion-dollar deal between two of the nation’s most important corporations, then piss off out of it and clear your desk for someone who can.