Carrier IQ Faces Lawsuits, Government Scrutiny Over Mobile Data Monitoring

Despite the company's assertion that it isn't stealthily collecting user data and that the collected information is aggregated rather than linked to specific mobile device users, federal regulators are being asked to investigate.

The troubles for mobile software vendor Carrier IQ continue mounting as the lawsuits roll in and lawmakers and regulators ask questions. The startup few had ever heard of before last week has been named in at least eight lawsuits over its monitoring software that has been found installed in millions of smartphones worldwide.

One of the lawsuits filed Dec. 1 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri named HTC and Carrier IQ as defendants and accused them of unlawfully intercepting communications from private mobile phones, smartphones and handsets.

Another lawsuit filed in District Court for the Northern District of California named HTC, Samsung and Carrier IQ as defendants. Both lawsuits accused the companies of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, which can result in damages of $100 a day per violation.

The California lawsuit also said the tracking software is in violation of California's Unfair Business Practice Act. Other lawsuits filed in Delaware and California named Apple, Motorola, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. A Delaware suit sought to block carriers and phone makers from using the software.

The St. Louis suit claims the defendants "intercepted, recorded and collected information concerning the substance, purport or meaning of the electronic communications transmitted without the authorization of the parties to those communications."

System administrator Trevor Eckhart published a report in late November accusing the software startup of installing software onto smartphones that allowed phone manufacturers and carriers to keep track of key presses, browsing history, SMS logs and location data without the user's knowledge or permission. Carrier IQ's software runs in the background and is very difficult to remove, according to Eckhart.

"I have serious concerns about the Carrier IQ software and whether it is secretly collecting users' personal information, such as the content of text messages," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that accompanied the letter he wrote to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation into the company.

Carrier IQ has denied the worst of the claims, claiming the software delivers metrics and aggregated data to operators to help improve services and does not collect personal information about users. "We measure and summarize performance of the device to assist Operators in delivering better service," Carrier IQ said in a statement, noting that the software makes the phone "better" by delivering intelligence that operators can use to provide "optimal service efficiency."

The software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video, according to Carrier IQ.