Optus, an Australian telecom provider, is facing payments of more than $8 million to customers after an apparent coding error in its products resulted in mistaken billings. While the cost to individual customers is relatively small, the incident highlights the cost to companies of even minor product errors when taken in aggregate and underscores the need for careful software development strategies.
After receiving customer complaints about incorrect billing as early as 2011, Optus launched an internal investigation in 2012, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The investigation identified a “software coding error” that had been signing people up for the company’s SurePage service, which charges a fee for an operator to transcribe voicemails and send them to customers as text messages. The company notified several regulatory bodies and announced plans to issue refunds totaling AU$8.8 million (US $8.2 million).
In total, around 235,000 customers were affected, according to the company. Of those, approximately 100,000 will receive less than AU$10, while around 60,000 people will receive AU$50 or more. The company apologized for its error in a statement and noted that it has since fixed the software issue.
“It’s unfortunate that Optus took so long to identify the issue but we are pleased that appropriate compensation measures have now been implemented,” a spokesman for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said.
While the payout may be little more than a minor relief for the customers affected, the cost in aggregate was substantial to Optus. Such a cost might have been prevented by avoiding the software error altogether through the use of tools designed to catch errors in production, such as static analysis software. By eliminating errors in advance of product releases, companies can avoid costly incidents and public relations challenges stemming from flaws later on.
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