Information Commissioner raps TalkTalk for holding back on malware trial details

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a warning to TalkTalk for breaking protocol by not informing it of a malware scanning system it was trialling.

The software collects the URLs of websites visited by the ISP’s customers. Concerns were raised that it was similar to the controversial Phorm trials carried out by BT.

TalkTalk, however, insists that its scanner technology from Huawei is not monitoring customers or collating any details about them. Customers have not been informed of the trial despite the system being piloted since July.

“We manage a network and that network accesses millions of websites. We are scanning all of the websites that our network accesses for malware. It is all anonymised. We are not monitoring customers,” said Mark Schmid, communications director at TalkTalk.

According to Schmid, the ICO has not said that TalkTalk is doing anything wrong.

“The ICO has said it would have been useful for them if they had been warned in advance, so that they would have been briefed as they were receiving a number of enquiries,” he maintained.

The ICO reportedly received a Freedom of Information request, asking if it had investigated TalkTalk’s system, last month.

A spokesperson for the ICO said: “The ICO is currently looking into the process by which TalkTalk collects data about websites visited on its network. We have requested further details about how data is used and will continue to monitor this service to ensure that it complies with the Data Protection Act.”

TalkTalk plans to roll out the malware scanning technology later this year. The system will alert users to any viruses when they access a site, and give them the opportunity to continue or abort their visit to the site. Schmid said that the system had found 75,000 websites containing viruses and malware in the last few months.

The trial raised concerns in light of the controversial Webwise system from Phorm, which tracked user’s online behaviour. Despite privacy issues being raised, Webwise was trialled by BT. However, although TalkTalk initially demonstrated interest in Phorm, both companies eventually ditched the system.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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