Carrier IQ: Scandal or Not?


As the Carrier IQ story unfolds, I'm kind of glad that I've had other things on my mind for the last couple of weeks; thankfully, my preoccupations have kept me from shooting off my mouth before I have a better sense of what's happening.

The question I have is: what data was actually sent by the software, and to whom? I'm pretty sure that most carriers' terms of service allow them to capture diagnostic information, but how far does that actually go in practice?


I'm fine with a certain level of data going back to the carrier or even the handset maker, when it helps to make the product better. I want that data anonymized, of course, and although I don't like the idea of my location being sent to "whomever" in real time, applications such as "Find My iPhone" already do that.The difference, of course, is that I deliberately enabled Find My iPhone, whereas Carrier IQ runs at such a low level that the ordinary end user isn't likely to notice it without digging for it. Another difference is that with apps such as Find My iPhone or NextBus, I'm choosing to use a service and I can stop using whenever I choose to do so. With Carrier IQ, I'm at the mercy of AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile (Verizon claims that its phones do not use Carrier IQ) and I have to trust in the sheer amount of noise I generate to keep abuse of the technology to a minimum.

Here's the thing: analytics tools such as Carrier IQ are invaluable when it comes to improving customer satisfaction. Since the first complaints that you're likely to hear from people about their mobile phones are failure to connect and failure in mid-call, there's a need for some kind of diagnostics and logging. My beef with this kind of technology is that the user has to be informed and given the choice of opting in or out; by supplying this kind of tool as part of the basic software distribution, carriers and those handset makers such as Apple, HTC and Samsung that provide it as part of the build are taking it upon themselves to use the information gleaned from it responsibly.

I haven't heard of any carriers being accused of mishandling data gleaned through Carrier IQ, nor have I heard of any information being leaked by Carrier IQ itself. Of course, that doesn't mean it hasn't happened; rather, nobody's been caught yet. I'm looking forward to any Senate subcommittee hearings that might take place as a result of this contretemps, even if I have to wait for next year for them to take place.