Carrier IQ: Improving cellphones or stealing your data?

Carrier IQ logging software is under increasing scrutiny as developers show how Carrier IQ logs users' keystrokes, even phone numbers and text messages, from cellphones and smartphones.

Scott A. Miller/Reuters/File
Sprint's new HTC Evo 3D phone is unveiled at the International CTIA wireless industry conference in Orlando, Fla., in March. Last month, a developer using the smartphone found that Carrier IQ logging software was recording all his keystrokes, including all Web locations, even secure ones.

To co-opt a line from a song, just because you’re paranoid don’t mean your cell phone carrier ain’t watching you.

One mobile developer, Trevor Eckhart, has lifted the veil on mobile carriers’ insanely invasive practices, which include tracking almost everything we do with our phones, from locations to keystrokes and beyond. (See the video below.)

The data-logging software is called Carrier IQ, and its makers have told reporters it is intended to grab “information off the handset to understand the mobile-user experience, where phone calls are dropped, where signal quality is poor, why applications crash and battery life.”

However, logging keystrokes — and in turn collecting every phone number, every search, every text message — as the above video shows the software doing, wanders outside the domain of what any mobile carrier should do to its customers.

We’ve written about Carrier IQ in the past. The company raised $20 million almost three years ago to collect cell phone data. At that time, the company said its software was already deployed on 35 million cell phones through seven mobile vendors.

In the middle of last year, when Carrier IQ raised another $12 million round, the company told us its software was on more than 90 million mobile devices by 12 leading vendors worldwide.

Worst of all, as Eckhart found, the Carrier IQ software isn’t easy to escape. You have to root your phone and uninstall the mobile operating system to get away from its prying gaze.

The lesson for carriers: Don’t tick off your developer customers, or they’ll lay you bare in front of a privacy-hungry public.

The lesson for the rest of us: Don’t use proprietary systems — including cell phones — and expect to be treated with any dignity or respect for your privacy.

Also of interest:

YouTube’s updated analytics tool could be a game-changer 
Saving Chanel, but losing the web

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