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Telstra employee skews cyberpoll

Caught in the act of rigging online user surveys last week, Australia's leading telephone company deliberates offering a formal apology, saying it can't control its employees' actions.

Caught in the act of rigging online user surveys last week, Telstra is playing down the need to offer a formal apology, saying it can't control the actions of its employees.

The country's leading telephone company said it is "still investigating" the issue, which saw two ZDNet Australia surveys sabotaged by a Telstra insider last week. ZDNet Australia is a property of CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com.

In both surveys--"Does Telstra's BigPond Internet service provide value for money?" and "Should Telstra compensate its customers for regular service interruptions?"--earlier results were skewed to cast the company in a positive, if somewhat suspicious, light.

ZDNet logs showed that a "bot," which is set up to send an automated online response, had been let loose from a Telstra Internet Protocol address, bombarding the ZDNet poll with answers. When confronted with the evidence, the company confirmed it was the work of someone on the Telstra team.

"Basically it's not a Telstra-endorsed thing that happened," spokesman Stuart Gray told ZDNet Australia. "Unfortunately, we can't control all actions of individuals."

When asked if Telstra would formally apologize, Gray said: "I'd have to think about that one."

Gray said he had been given "no indications" by Telstra's security team that the PC upon which the deed was done had been identified, nor would he say if the culprit would be reprimanded for compromising the online polls.

"We don't make any comment on internal staff issues," he said.

The industry heavyweight was quick to shift the blame, saying, "It actually served to highlight (that) your polls are not that robust."

Telstra's in-house action has left ZDNet readers debating the credibility of Internet polls vs. what one ZDNet reader describes as Telstra's "bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping attempt to regain some small shred of credibility."

"The question here isn't about the credibility of online polls, but the fact that Telstra is a greedy company who doesn't give a damn about its customers and will do anything it can to cover up its inadequacies," another ZDNet reader said.

Before the results of the original ZDNet poll, "Does Telstra's BigPond Internet service provide value for money?" were corrupted, 25 respondents said that value for money wasn't provided, and just one respondent said otherwise. That one respondent has since claimed to have voted "yes" by mistake.

Rachel Lebihan reported from Sydney.