Carrier IQ Captures Cell and Internet Usage from Millions without Approval

05 December 2011 Internet, IT & e-Discovery Blog Blog
Authors: Peter Vogel

A researcher recently found that Carrier IQ software is secretly installed on most modern Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia phones. Android developer’s Trevor Eckert’s 17 minute video demonstrates how that Carrier IQ software is loaded on his phone, cannot be disabled, tracks every keystroke, and sends the data to Carrier IQ.  After receiving this massive data from millions of cell users, Carrier IQ "correlates and aggregates the data for near real-time system monitoring and business intelligence" for phone carriers and manufacturers ostensibily to improve quality.

Eckert demonstrated that Carrier IQ software was logging and potentially transmitting the sensitive information of consumers, including:

  • when they turn their phones on;
  • when they turn their phones off;
  • the phone numbers they dial;
  • the contents of text messages they receive;
  • the URLs of the websites they visit;
  • the contents of their online search queries—even when those searches are encrypted; and
  • the location of the customer using the smartphone—even when the customer has expressly denied permission for an app that is currently running to access his or her location.

As a result Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-Chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission  asking what is being done to investigate.

In addition to Representative Markey’s letter, Senator Al Franken (chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law) sent his own letter to Carrier IQ which included the following:

I am very concerned by recent reports that your company’s software – pre-installed on smartphones used by millions of Americans – is logging and may be transmitting extraordinarily sensitive information from consumers’ phones … It also appears that an average user would have no way to know that this software is running – and that when the user finds out, he or she will have no reasonable means to remove or stop it. … These actions may violate federal privacy laws, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This is potentially a very serious matter.

Senator Franken requested that Carrier IQ answer by December 14, 2011.

On December 1, 2011 Carrier IQ issued a press release in which Carrier IQ stated that consumer’s privacy is protected:

Consumers have a trusted relationship with operators and expect their personal information and privacy to be respected. As a condition of its contracts with operators, Carrier IQ operates exclusively within that framework and under the laws of the applicable jurisdiction. The data we gather is transmitted over an encrypted channel and secured within our customers’ networks or in our audited and customer-approved facilities.

Actually Carrier IQ claimed that “Our software makes your phone better by delivering intelligence on the performance of mobile devices and networks to help the operators provide optimal service efficiency.”

This is alarming news and it seems to me we all expect our government to step in to protect consumers’ privacy which seems has been seriously compromised! 

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