Optus snafu prints 50k private mobile numbers in White Pages

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Optus snafu prints 50k private mobile numbers in White Pages

Monitor stands across Australia hit by privacy breach.

Australia’s telecommunications bridesmaid, Optus, has given a leg-up to Australia Post’s struggling letters business after it took to snail mail to tell around 50,000 customers their mobile phone numbers had been wrongly published – in the White Pages printed telephone books.

In a thoroughly weird throwback to the days when you were issued a free monitor stand that got smaller every year, Optus has apologised to customers for the data breach using the one communications format proven to be ruggedized against media cut and paste efforts: paper.

Unfortunately many of those details also went into the online telephone book… but they’ve since been deleted, Optus reckons.

But the big book of numbers, with so many secondary lifehack uses, is hanging around like a well-loved doorstop or flower press.

“As soon as this issue was discovered, we contacted Sensis to remove your details from their online website directory, operator-directory assistance and any future printed editions of the directories. However, your details may still remain printed in older versions of the White Pages,” Optus told affected customers who posted shots of their letters online.

Clearly, there is little hope of getting the books back. They will forever be collector’s items for private investigators and debt collectors who are known to hoard old phone books which contain otherwise highly ephemeral records.

“Once again we’re very sorry for this mistake. We’re contacting all affected customers and we’ll continue to conduct audits to ensure that your personal information is treated with the greatest care,” the Optus mea culpa reads.

Concerned customers can also get their numbers changed, Optus advises, which will be a real hoot as you update all your friends and family. Or maybe not quite all of them.

Mind you, it’s a fortuitous guerilla marketing coup for Sensis, especially with the most Facebook action the White Pages brand has had in years with dozens flocking to the fading social media giant to post photos of their apology letters.

And while it’s easy to sneer at the archaic, lumbering tomes, they do provide a unique and sometimes invaluable window into the pre-digital past.

One of the world’s rarest books remains a physical copy of the 1939 Warsaw telephone directory that was used after the second world war to validate the existence of Jews and Poles exterminated by the Nazis.

The phonebooks, which were systematically destroyed by the Nazis along with reams of other records, were often the last documents that could be used to prove a person’s identity and existence.

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