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Carrier IQ tracking scandal escalates: it’s not the manufacturers, blame the carriers

Carrier IQ tracking scandal escalates: it’s not the manufacturers, blame the carriers
Carrier IQ is a simple telemetrics company but there’s one thing that makes it stand out from the rest - chances are, it’s on your smartphone and researcher Trevor Eckhart has recently found out that it records your every keystroke, SMS message, phone call and logs a lot of the data you transmit. Scary? Add to that the fact that you can’t remove it, and things start to look very Orwellian.

Apparently, those previously unknown findings weren’t warmly embraced over at Carrier IQ as the company sent an absurd and inimical cease and desist order, a copy of which you can find at the source link at the end of this article. Here’s an extract of Eckhart’s report on Carrier IQ that must have triggered that hostile response:

From training documents found we get an insight to the Carrier IQ Portal. Devices are displayed to the portal operator by individual phone Equipment ID and Subscriber IDs. The “portal administrator” can put devices into categories and see devices in California that have dropped calls at 5pm.

The down side to all of this is the “portal administrator” is also able to “task” a single phone with a profile containing any combinations of metric and trigger. From leaked training documents we can see that portal operators can view and task metrics by equipment ID, subscriber ID, and more. So instead of seeing dropped calls in California, they now know “Joe Anyone’s” location at any given time, what he is running on his device, keys being pressed, applications being used.

Later on, after receiving the cease-and-desist letter, the researcher defended his position and was backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Carrier IQ seemed to be breaking the First Amendment granting the right to free speech. Swiftly after, the company withdrew the letter and issued an apology. What followed then was a “Media Alert” press release titled with the exclamative “Measuring Mobile User Experience Does Matter!” (you can find the full PR at the end of the article).

The press release contains a lot of sweet PR talk and denies allegations about Carrier IQ's possible use for logging keystrokes and tracking the user. The vague excuse of only gathering “operational information” to improve the network experience however doesn’t directly answer Eckhart’s fact-based findings, and details have continued surfacing since then, and the scandal is just escalating.

Carrier IQ tracking scandal escalates: it’s not the manufacturers, blame the carriers

Carrier IQ itself says its app is present on more than 141 million devices and while the scandal broke around the app on Android handsets, there’s more evidence pointing out that it’s also on iOS, other platforms and feature phones. The big question then is: who’s responsible for this piece of software silently ending up on your smartphone?

Here’s the company’s position on that: “Our software is embedded by device manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools and software prior to shipment.” Does it reflect reality?

To answer that question first, though, we should mention that not all Android devices have it. Interestingly, devices from the Nexus line including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and ones in which Google has a more direct participation like the Motorola XOOM don’t have Carrier IQ’s software. The Verge confirmed this with an inside scoop from reportedly a reliable source (could be someone at Google). 

Just recently, Apple hacker chpwn found traces of Carrier IQ in iOS. Particularly, there seems to be a daemon which is reportedly not logging any sensitive information, but we’re yet to have final clarity on that. Moreover, it seems that on iOS you can choose to opt out via Settings -> General -> About -> Diagnostics & Usage, where you should turn off “Send Automatically.”

Additionally, various people have chimed in on the debate agreeing that we shouldn’t blame the device manufacturer but the carrier. Apple enthusiast Seth Weintraub wrote: 

“Carrier IQ is something that Carriers put on phones as part of their OEM software. This is out of the hands of both Google and the manufacturers.”

Kyle Sluder on Twitter pointed out that “this CarrierIQ story has been wrongly turned into an Apple vs. Android battle. It’s all about the carriers.

Those findings and opinions round up everything we know so far, but we’ll definitely be hearing more about the scandal soon. In the meantime, though, feel free to check out the initial report that triggered all of this, then Carrier IQ’s response and its subsequent withdrawal.

You can view and download all of the related documents below, most of them are in a convenient to read PDF format:

  • Options

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 04:27 4

1. Leyjee (Posts: 47; Member since: 25 Feb 2011)

Even if it is the carriers, its still wrong. I always thought that a mobile phone was something you could trust, but there is so much secrecy and surveillance behind them. Mind you though "turning off automatically" means to generally stop sending diagnostic reports to microsoft, google etc.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 06:56 2

7. remixfa (Posts: 14604; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

eehh. . i have a hard time swallowing carrier bloat from an apple. apple doesnt allow squat on their devices that they dont want. unless they are getting privy to the information as well. Maybe that was all part of that tracking scandal a few months ago.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 11:31

19. JonGarrett (Posts: 29; Member since: 06 Aug 2011)

you're an @ass. believe what you want but chpwn has a reputation and knowledge that's trusted by millions of iOS users and his word carries tons more weight than yours ever could.

If chpwn says its there in iOS then its there, go on with your denial you silly iDiot.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 12:02 3

20. downphoenix (Posts: 3165; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)

Remixfa isn\'t an iDiot, and he is right that it doesn\'t sound like Apple, as Apple prefers to do the software all their own, thus why you dont have various carrier specific apps on Iphones usually.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 14:00 4

21. remixfa (Posts: 14604; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


dude, someone just called me an iDiot!! take a picture!!! lolololol.

see, i get s**t from the apple guys when i defend android. i get s**t from the android guys when i defend apple. lolol... an iDiot for stating an obvious fact that even a blind fandroid would know.
thanks, i just laughed my ass off. lololol

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 15:11 2

22. taz89 (Posts: 2014; Member since: 03 May 2011)

lol you must be new if you think remixfa is an ifanboy lol lol lol

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 04:55 3

2. Victor.H (Posts: 761; Member since: 27 May 2011)

Absolutely, I\'d say it really is scary since all of that was/is happening without the user actually knowing someone could be spying pretty much his every action.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 06:30 2

6. arcq12 (Posts: 733; Member since: 13 Oct 2011)

isnt this a government protocol? coz i dont think these carriers give a crap about our phones calls and such.. this is probably just for security purposes.. they can track down criminals because of this..

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:26 1

8. TheMaster (Posts: 4; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)

You mean Wall Street bankers and The Government?... They have NSA approved CIQ free devices.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:32 3

10. arcq12 (Posts: 733; Member since: 13 Oct 2011)

you know some of those movies where the CIA tracks down targets via their mobile phones? then the goons throw 'em away to avoid being tracked.. maybe something like that.. i believe thats what they have used to figure those 9/11 attackers..

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:44 1

11. rendHELL (Posts: 304; Member since: 09 Nov 2011)

they watch your every move... with or without your permission...

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:53 2

13. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)

i think thats true

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 05:19 2

3. CX3NT3_713 (Posts: 2285; Member since: 18 Apr 2011)

Those bastards! !!!

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 05:52

4. mctcm (Posts: 204; Member since: 19 Oct 2011)

Maybe its time to get a prepaid phone

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 17:30

23. rcrider4 (Posts: 118; Member since: 14 Nov 2011)

Or just wait until the outrage becomes high enough that carriers have to disable CIQ or get sued into oblivion.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 06:23 2

5. mctcm (Posts: 204; Member since: 19 Oct 2011)

Really nice how they try to strong arm Eckhart then back down and want to "talk" when they find out he has representation

This is an example where regulation is needed to protect consumers from absurdly unethical actions. Obviously, that wont happen from any partisan group.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 08:07 1

14. Victor.H (Posts: 761; Member since: 27 May 2011)

Agreed. Interestingly, probably they would\'ve succeed if it was the average person, but Eckhart stood his ground.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 07:49 4

12. rob5150 (Posts: 173; Member since: 31 Oct 2011)

I sent my senator a link to this story. Lets see if it helps. We all should. Just last week after the story came out about the shopping malls were going to track us by our cell phone. Senator Schumer released a statement ....http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/195649-schumer-warns-that-malls-may-track-shoppers-movements

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 08:08 2

15. Victor.H (Posts: 761; Member since: 27 May 2011)

Activism will definitely help resolve this quicker. Thumbs up!

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 08:31 1

17. networkdood (Posts: 6330; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)

Using TrevE logger app pro - the RAZR does not have any sign of CIQ on it - disabled all tracking....

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 08:57 1

18. LewsTherin006 (Posts: 140; Member since: 18 Nov 2011)

Every carrier but Tmobile actually has sents a copy of all its data to the government anyway, so its not like our data safe ( read this on the web once). Plus facebook steals are our information too. yes, its wrong of the carriers to do this but its not like this is the only way they steal our info.

posted on 01 Dec 2011, 20:10

24. denney (Posts: 98; Member since: 20 Oct 2011)

The way I see it, weapons manufacturers could end us all with a push of a button, but they dont. Just because a company has the ability to do something terrible with their industry's technology doesn't mean that it is being done.

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