Today, telcos and smartphone makers are lining up to confirm or deny whether their devices carry stealth software that potentially reports your keystrokes and messages to telcos and hardware companies. Apple, for instance, says it used to employ the software — called Carrier IQ — but stopped supporting it in the recent Apple iOS 5 release.
As others come forward to confuse the issue — AT&T and Sprint both say they employ Carrier IQ in their services, Verizon says it doesn’t — thought I’d take a minute and explain what we know about Carrier IQ so far.
It all started a few days ago, when American Trevor Eckhart posted this YouTube video, which purported to show how his smartphone included hidden “carrier IQ” software that logs keystrokes and messages for wireless carriers and mobile hardware companies, according to Carrier IQ’s own description of its profit model.
To get the best understanding of what has the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and various US Senators so upset, watch this:
Apple today said that its current version of its mobile iOS 5x system no longer supports Carrier IQ, but the software, say reports, was hidden on iPhones, Android phones and others for at least two years or more. Not only does Carrier IQ log keystrokes, but it also records incoming text messages. It is as yet unclear what telcos or smartphone makers do with the data.
The Carrier IQ program, created by an eponymous firm in Mountain View, CA, is not intended to “spy” on people and it is an intelligence service for wireless providers, said Carrier reps in this prepared statement.
Mountain View, CA – November 16, 2011 – Carrier IQ would like to clarify some recent press on how our product is used and the information that is gathered from smartphones and mobile devices. Carrier IQ delivers Mobile Intelligence on the performance of mobile devices and networks to assist operators and device manufacturers in delivering high quality products and services to their customers. We do this by counting and measuring operational information in mobile devices – feature phones, smartphones and tablets. This information is used by our customers as a mission critical tool to improve the quality of the network, understand device issues and ultimately improve the user experience. Our software is embedded by device manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools and software prior to shipment. While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools. The metrics and tools we derive are not designed to deliver such information, nor do we have any intention of developing such tools. The information gathered by Carrier IQ is done so for the exclusive use of that customer, and Carrier IQ does not sell personal subscriber information to third parties. The information derived from devices is encrypted and secured within our customer’s network or in our audited and customer-approved facilities. Our customers have stringent policies and obligations on data collection and retention. Each customer is different and our technology is customized to their exacting needs and legal requirements. Carrier IQ enables a measurable impact on improving the quality and experience of our customers’ mobile networks and devices. Our business model and technology aligns exclusively with this goal
Comments? With this software on an estimated 140 million smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices worldwide — AT&T and other major telcos affirm they use it — shouldn’t such information be opt-in?
Don’t you want to know if all your messages and calls are being logged somewhere — even if they are not, and analysts are uncertain, sent straight to telcos or sold to lead generation and marketing firms? Certainly, the business model of Carrier IQ, backed by Mohr Davidow, Accel Partners and a number of other blue chip VC firms, is lucrative given that level of investment. And Carrier IQ, on its website, does say straight out that it “aggregates, analyzes and delivers data” to wireless carriers as well as device makers.
Most aggregation employs anonymized data and is intensely lucrative. The value is in your demographics — so ads can more precisely target you. It’s the same model FaceBook is built upon.
Here is what Carrier IQ on its website tells telco customers about its service:
Carrier IQ is unique in the wireless industry because we are the only company embedding diagnostic software in millions of subscribers’ phones. And, we are the only ones who add the “IQ” or smarts to the data. This is Actionable Intelligence – information and analysis you can use to identify problems and more importantly, solve them. And, we are a proven leader with millions of handsets deployed with Carrier IQ software inside …
Yes, it is possible to see if your phone or tablet has the software. But you have to root it first and run Eckhart’s detection app.
Together with the collection and triangulation of location data, naturally the revelation of the ubiquity of Carrier IQ has a lot of people worried. We’ll be following this story.