Skip to main content

Carrier IQ responds to scandal: We’re not doing anything wrong


Carrier IQ, which makes diagnostic software for mobile devices, has responded to claims that it is spying on users. Its statement, which shrugs off any wrongdoing whatsoever, follows a flurry of statements from the mobile industry’s biggest players, and an inquiry into the matter by Sen. Al Franken.

In an interview with AllThingsD‘s John Paczkowski, Carrier IQ spokesperson Andrew Coward said that his company’s software “receives a huge amount of information from the operating system. But just because it receives it doesn’t mean that it’s being used to gather intelligence about the user or passed along to the carrier.”

The uproar over Carrier IQ’s software, which is installed on millions of devices on AT&T and Sprint networks (but not Verzion), and is completely hidden from the user, started after Android developer Trevor Eckhard released a YouTube video showing the software at work. In the 17-minute clip, the software is shown recording keystrokes, location, URLs, incoming text messages, and encrypted data.

Contrary to previous accounts — and to Eckhard’s findings — Coward says that the video does not show that “all information is processed, stored, or forwarded out of the device” by Carrier IQ’s software. Instead, it’s simply being used to send out information that is useful to carriers for quality-assessment purposes, Coward asserts. So if, for instance, your device drops a call, or a text message fails to go through, that information may be recorded and sent to the carrier.

To determine which information is sent to carriers, Carrier IQ’s software is programmed to look for specific numeric sequences. If one of these sequences shows up in its system, that information is sent to the carrier.

Carrier IQ’s software can be modified to each carrier’s specifications, so only the data the carrier wants to know about it sent. In addition, Coward says that Carrier IQ’s software does not record the contents of text messages, only the number to which a message is sent. It also does not record the contents of websites visited, only the URL.

“What’s actually gathered, stored and transmitted to the carrier is determined by its end-user agreement,” Carrier IQ chief executive Larry Lenhart tells AllthingsD. “And, as I’m sure you’re aware, the carriers are highly sensitive about what data they’re allowed to capture and what they’re not allowed to capture.”

Lenhart also says that none of the data collected by its software is sent to third parties. “We would never take that data and distribute it to a third party. We are prohibited from doing that by our agreements.”

OK, now that we have the official company line out of the way, let’s take a look at what’s actually being said here. First, Carrier IQ has explicitly said that it “listens” to a wide range of activity on the phone, but doesn’t record all of it. The only information that is passed on to the carrier is that which is pre-designated as important, only data that relates to quality control.

If you ask us, the problem is not that carriers want to know when something goes wrong with their network, or a device on their network. The problem is that Carrier IQ’s software is 1) hidden from the user; 2) does not give the ability to opt-out; and 3) could, potentially, be programmed to record and send any data entered into the phone, even if it’s currently only being used to transmit data related to service quality.

Carrier IQ’s clarification on the matter only confirms that mobile users are trusting the company not to betray their privacy. That makes mobile users’ who have Carrier IQ’s software installed vulnerable. And that, folks, is a problem, even if Carrier IQ doesn’t agree.

Needless to say, this issue is far from over. As PaidContent reports, Carrier IQ, as well as HTC and Samsung, both of which have admitted to installing Carrier IQ’s software on their devices, have been sued by plaintiffs in Chicago and St. Louis. The suit is based upon the Federal Wiretap Act, which forbids the interception of “oral, wire or electronic communications.” Violation of this law allows for penalties of up to $100 per day, per violation. The plaintiffs are seeking millions of dollars in damages. HTC, for one, says it is investigating ways to disable the software.

As of this writing, Carrier IQ’s software has been installed on more than 141,3oo,000 devices, according to the company website.

[Image via Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock]

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Couts
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Features Editor for Digital Trends, Andrew Couts covers a wide swath of consumer technology topics, with particular focus on…
Carrier IQ finally settles class-action lawsuit over consumer privacy
adobe exploit scarcruft heartbleed bug hacker

Back in November 2011, a researcher posted a damning video of Carrier IQ, a company that offers diagnostic analysis of smartphones, logging keystrokes. A class-action lawsuit, which alleged that the company’s mobile software violated consumers’ privacy, was filed after the fact. Recently, Carrier IQ finally agreed to resolve the lawsuit, reports MediaPost.

At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, class-action lawsuits were also filed against six device manufacturers, including HTC, Samsung, LG, and others. All the lawsuits were consolidated in front of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco. While Carrier IQ agreed to settle, the device manufacturers have yet to do so.

Read more
Slick Ubuntu Mobile OS previewed again, but we’re still waiting for a release date
Ubuntu Mobile Welcome 2

We’re still waiting for Ubuntu Mobile, Canonical’s mobile operating system, to finally make its official debut on a smartphone. To whet our appetite, smartphone manufacturer Meizu has published a short demonstration video showing the OS in action on one of its phones. In it, we get a closer look at how the software will perform when used for everyday tasks, such as typing on the keyboard, switching apps, and navigating though the home screens. Consider our appetite whetted Canonical, just get on with releasing a phone we can go out and buy.
You may not have heard of Meizu before. It’s a well-known brand in China, and recently announced its intention to start selling its phones internationally, including in America. Subsequently, it was confirmed one of its first devices to be sold outside of China would have Ubuntu Mobile installed. Meizu, along with Spanish brand bq, are Canonical’s first two official hardware partners for the new OS.

The phone on which Ubuntu Mobile is demonstrated is the Meizu MX3. Originally announced late last year, the phone has a 5.1-inch screen with an unusual 1080 x 1800 pixel resolution, and Samsung’s Exynos 5 Octa eight-core processor inside. It usually runs Android, complete with Meizu’s own custom user interface named Flyme, and the phone also has an 8-megapixel camera. It's likely to be representative of the Ubuntu Mobile phone which will be released in the future.
We caught up with Canonical during Mobile World Congress, and managed to spend a short while playing with Ubuntu Mobile, which was installed on a Nexus 4. One thing Meizu’s video doesn’t highlight is the cool welcome screen. The circle on the main screen, glimpsed briefly before it’s swept aside here, shows notifications and a wide variety of other information related to the phone, all of which can be cycled through with a tap. It's just part of a fun, interesting, and attractive OS, which has been a long time coming.
If seeing Ubuntu Mobile in action makes you want to try it out, it’s possible provided you own the right Nexus device, and don’t mind installing a beta operating system on to it yourself. If you’d rather wait for an official phone, according to Canonical, the release will happen this year, but it hasn’t been any more precise than that.

Read more
Apple responds to DoJ e-book lawsuit: We did nothing wrong

Two days after the U.S. Department of Justice filed antitrust lawsuits against Apple and five of the largest publishers in the country for allegedly colluding to fix the price of e-books, the electronics giant has responded to the government's actions, say it did nothing wrong. Apple's defense echos that of Macmillan and Penguin, both of which have decided to fight the suit in court. The three remaining publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — all agreed to settle out of court, almost immediately after the Justice Department filed the suit.
"The DOJ’s accusation of collusion against Apple is simply not true," said Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr, via AllThingsD. "The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from e-books that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore."
There are a number of interesting points in this statement that should be highlighted. First, Apple says that the launch of iBookstore broke Amazon's "monopolistic grip on the publishing industry." This is notable because it is precisely the way the publishing industry sees the situation. Prior to the launch of the iBookstore, Amazon (and other booksellers) was able to set the price of e-books at whatever it wanted it to be. Turns out that price was extremely low, so low that nobody else could compete, which effectively made Amazon and its Kindle e-reader the dominant seller of e-books. When iBookstore launched, the publishing industry found a partner to help it switch to an "agency model" of pricing, which allows the publisher -- not Amazon, or anyone else -- to set the price.
It is also notable because of the word "monopolistic." Most of the time, monopolies use their dominant power in the market to raise prices for consumers. Amazon did the opposite -- it drastically lowered prices as a way to control the market. Technically, that does not make Amazon a monopoly, even if it means others cannot compete, because consumers are not being harmed by low prices.
Second, Apple says that "customers have benefited from e-books that are more interactive and engaging" thanks to the launch of iBookstore. This is key because the DoJ's argument is that customers were forced to pay millions of dollars more than they should have for e-books as a result of iBookstore and the switch to the agency pricing model. What Apple's presumably trying to say here is that they did not overpay for e-books because the product they received was of a higher quality, and thus justifies the higher price tag.
So, how will this play out? For starters, Amazon will now be able to offer books from the three publishers that agreed to settle at whatever price it wants again. Also, Barnes & Noble will probably die eventually. The company has already lost a significant portion of its market value in just a few days, as a result of the settlements.
As far as Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin go, there's a good chance they could win this fight. But because their side has already splintered, the damage (or improvement, depending on how you want to look at it) has already been done.

Read more