An untold number of UK residents may have unwittingly broadcast their numbers to sites across the Web while browsing the Internet with their mobile phones during the past two weeks.
Mobile service provider O2 said on Wednesday that a glitch had exposed the numbers of customers using smartphones who connected to the Internet over the company’s network.
The company, a major subsidiary of Spain’s Telefonica SA, has about 22 million customers in Britain. It was unclear how many of those may have been affected and a call seeking further comment from O2 was not immediately returned.
The glitch was “potentially very serious,” said Matt Bath, the technology editor for British consumer watchdog magazine Which?
“You are making private information available into the wilds of the Web,” he said. “A lot of good Web sites won’t do anything with that data at all, [but] there’s a potential for a rogue Web site to harvest the information. That is an open door when it comes to spam, which is annoying, but also outright scams.”
O2 said in a blog post that the company routinely shares its customers’ telephone numbers with what it described as “trusted partners” for purposes such as age-verification and billing for premium content, but because of a glitch introduced during a routine maintenance operation on Jan. 10, “there has been the potential for disclosure of customers’ mobile phone numbers to further Web site owners.”
“This genie is completely out of the bottle,” Bath said. “Some unruly Web site may be rubbing their hands with glee at the data bounty that’s landed on their laps.”