What's the deal with Carrier IQ and what it means to you
A lot has been said about Carrier IQ in the past few days. For those who are not aware, Carrier IQ is a company based in Mountain View, California and provides mobile analytic services for smartphones to the wireless industry. So why is it the news suddenly?
A few days ago, Android security researcher Trevor Eckhart discovered Carrier IQ software in one of the HTC devices he was using. He discovered that the software was collecting user data, from the device location, to the applications on it and even logging the keystrokes.
As you can expect, he wrote about it on his blog trying to inform as many people as he can and in doing so found himself in Carrier IQ’s crosshairs. The company claimed that Eckhart was infringing on their copyright by reproducing some of their training material in his post and also defaming them and if he did not remove the objectionable material and apologize the company will take legal action against him. Fortunately for Eckhart, the Electronics Frontier Foundation came to his aid and thwarted Carrier IQ’s attempts in suing him in court.
Unfortunately for Carrier IQ, in their attempt to silence Eckhart, they ended up making a lot more fuss than what was good for them. It became clear from their eagerness to keep the whole thing quiet that they did have something to hide, and in this case it was all the data that they were collecting from mobile users.
So why is Carrier IQ collecting all of that data? According to them, their software is installed on the devices by the carriers who are interested in getting these statistics to improve the user experience. The question is however, why not ask users for their permission, if their goals are so noble?
When the news of incident hit the Internet everyone rushed to find out if their devices are running Carrier IQ’s software as well. Turns out, a lot of them are. Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile have admitted to using the software on their devices. Other carriers, such as Verizon, Vodafone and O2, however, have denied ever using Carrier IQ’s software on their devices.
As far as the devices are concerned, most Android phones are running the Carrier IQ tracking software, especially those from HTC, Samsung and Motorola. Google, however, has denied using the software in any of their Nexus devices.
Apple’s iPhone also has been using the Carrier IQ software but as iPhone hacker Chpwn discovered, it is disabled by default and has to be enabled by the user in diagnostic mode. Another thing to note is that unlike the Android devices, iPhones do not log your keystrokes and other private information but only technical data like call status and location.
Apple has said that they have been using Carrier IQ software in their devices but they have stopped supporting it in most of their iOS 5 devices and will remove it completely in future.
Nokia, RIM and Microsoft have claimed that none of their devices ever shipped with Carrier IQ’s software.
Now getting on to the more important part of how you can get rid of it. If you have an Android device, one of the options is to flash a custom ROM on to your device, which will completely get rid of the official ROM and all that came with it, including Carrier IQ’s software.
The second option is, assuming you have a rooted device, to install this $1 tool by Eckhart called Logging Test App from the Android Market and you will be able to remove Carrier IQ from your device, if at all it is present.
Depending upon how paranoid you are with your privacy you will either find Carrier IQ’s inclusion of a tracking tool on your phone appalling or not that big of a deal. Still what’s worse than them including such a tool on your phone is them doing it without bothering to ask you, which raises questions about their true motives. Also, other than on Apple’s devices, they have made it nearly impossible to locate the tool on your phone and even more difficult to disable or remove it, which is a further cause for concern.
Hopefully, some legal action will be taken against them so next time they will at least have the courtesy to ask you before installing unwanted stuff on your devices.