Carrier IQ: Controversial software stains AT&T, Apple, Sprint

Carrier IQ, a California company founded in 2005, could be logging the keystrokes and text messages of millions of mobile phone users. 

Carrier IQ is still in use on some Apple devices, Apple said today, but it is in the process of being phased out. Customers try out the iPhone 4S at an Apple store in San Francisco.

You say "analytics," he says "spyware." 

On Monday, Android developer Trevor Eckhart published a video investigation into the workings of Carrier IQ, a California tracking firm founded in 2005. On its website, Carrier IQ – which services Sprint, RIM, and HTC, among others – says it provides in-depth data on millions of users "by counting and measuring operational information in mobile devices." Sounds innocent enough, in a corporate-speak kind of way.

But Eckhart alleged that what Carrier IQ was doing was actually something a little more sinister: logging keystrokes, tracking browsing history, and even scanning text messages. That data, in turn, could conceivably be sent to the many carriers that employ the services. Unsurprisingly, Eckhart's videos have stirred up a firestorm on the Web. 

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"Does the monthly fee to 'rent' mobile broadband service mean consumers have no privacy rights while on the carrier network?" writer Kevin C. Tofel wondered over at GigaOM. Meanwhile, Paul Ohm, a law professor at the University of Colorado Law School has told that Carrier IQ actually could be held liable for violating the rights of users. 

"If CarrierIQ has gotten the handset manufactures to install secret software that records keystrokes intended for text messaging and the Internet and are sending some of that information back somewhere, this is very likely a federal wiretap," Ohm says. "And that gives the people wiretapped the right to sue and provides for significant monetary damages."

Thus far, AT&T and Sprint have admitted to using Carrier IQ, but say the services extend only to maintenance and general monitoring purposes. (Verizon says it has no association with Carrier IQ at all.) 

"Carrier IQ is used to understand what problems customers are having with our network or devices so we can take action to improve service quality," Sprint reps said in a statement. "It collects enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to devise solutions to use and connection problems. We do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool."

And what about Apple? Well, in a note to Ars Technica, company reps said Carrier IQ is in the process of getting the boot from Apple products. "We stopped supporting Carrier IQ with iOS 5 in most of our products, and we're going to remove it completely in a future software update," reps explained. It's unclear what Apple devices still support Carrier IQ. 

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