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App installed on millions of phones secretly records all activity

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mobile users, beware: you’re being watched — constantly. An Android developer claims to have discovered an app that comes pre-installed on millions of Android and BlackBerry handsets, that records all activity on the device. That includes calls, location, and every key pressed on the device.

Update: Nokia says that reports that this software is installed on its devices is incorrect, and that the software won’t work with their systems.

The app, created by California-based software company Carrier IQ, is shown in a video posted to YouTube (see below) by developer Trevor Eckhard logging every key he pressed, in real time. The software even recorded Eckhard’s geographic location, when connected to Google via Wi-Fi — not 3G — even though he denied permission for Google to track his whereabouts. Calls aren’t safe, either.

“Every button you press in the dialer before you call,” Eckhard says on the video, “it already gets sent off to the IQ application.”

According to Carrier IQ, the software is simply used to assess quality control, telling Wired that the app is for “gathering 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.”

The company also denied that the software transmits user data in real time.

“Our technology is not real time,” said Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s VP of marketing, in an interview last week. “It’s not constantly reporting back. It’s gathering information up and is usually transmitted in small doses.”

So when Eckhard dubbed the software a “rootkit” — a term typically associated with trojans and other malware — Carrier IQ threatened to wage a legal battle against Eckhard. The company quickly pulled off its dogs, however, after the Electronic Frontier Foundation came out in support of Eckhard’s claims. Carrier IQ also denies that its software records keystrokes — a claim obviously refuted by Eckhard’s video.

The only way to rid your device of Carrier IQ’s invasive monitoring software is to completely wipe your device, and reinstall it with a new operating system.

This is, of course, not the first time we’ve learned about our mobile devices betraying our private data. But it doesn’t make it any less troublesome, this time around.

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Andrew Couts
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