With news surfacing last week of Carrier IQ, a hidden software installed on many smartphones that logs numerous details about the users’ activities, a few of the companies involved have stepped forward to explain their actions.
Most recently, T-Mobile has made a point to ensure customers that it does not use the Carrier IQ software to “obtain content of text, email or voice messages, or the specific destinations of customers’ internet activity.” Rather, the carrier claims to use the program to note battery performance, dropped calls and failed applications.
T-Mobile alleges that if a customer’s phone battery appears to not be holding a charge, the company can determine if the issue roots back to the battery, charger or device with Carrier IQ. Additionally, the carrier claims it can conclude whether a dropped call is a result of its network or the customer’s handset. T-Mobile also stated that the software allows its techs to troubleshoot a failed app, which may be perceived by the customer to be the device freezing or crashing.
Carrier IQ Responds
The company behind this software, also called Carrier IQ, released a statement that attempts to calm down the furor around its product. It says, in part:
Our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video. For example, we understand whether an SMS was sent accurately, but do not record or transmit the content of the SMS. We know which applications are draining your battery, but do not capture the screen.
Those who have carefully examined the information that is being logged confirm much of these assertions. While it has been widely reported that Carrier IQ does key logging, this is apparently only true for the Phone app. So it does not record everything typed onto the smartphone, just the numbers being dialed.
At least some versions of this app also log all websites the phone has visited. This includes sites that use the HTTPS secure protocol — this is somewhat controversial, as these sometimes embed the user names and passwords into the URL.
The Debate Continues
While the assurance from T-Mobile and Carrier IQ may settle some people’s concerns, other national carriers in question, such as Sprint and AT&T, have yet to address the allegations that Carrier IQ is present in their devices, and if so, what the companies uses the software for.
The discovery has garnered quite a following, with U.S. Senator Al Franken asking the company behind Carrier IQ to respond to such claims, resulting in the filing of a class-action lawsuit against the software maker.
A Widespread Issue
Currently the spyware is estimated to be featured on about 150 million smartphones, including such devices from T-Mobile as the HTC Amaze 4G, Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Exhibit II 4G and the BlackBerry Bold 9900, among others. Sprint also uses the service, and so does Apple.
It isn’t universal, however: A Verizon spokesperson said last week, “We do not add Carrier IQ to our phones. We do not use other similar software on our devices.”