Carrier IQ Software Compromises Android Device Data Privacy

News Analysis: The installation of Carrier IQ's monitoring software on wireless devices causes privacy concerns. But it has more serious implications regarding security, federal data protection regulations and even wiretapping rules.

By now you've probably heard there's a mysterious phone tracking app called Carrier IQ that's been found on some smartphones. This app, according to Trevor Eckhart, a systems administrator and Android researcher, records keystrokes, instant messages and perhaps even voice and email.

He provides a demonstration of this on YouTube with a video about how to discover Carrier IQ. Eckhart demonstrates the app on his own Sprint Evo 4G, and shows how it records everything that passes through the phone.
Eckhart also claims that this same app, which is really nothing less than spyware, is installed on some Nokia and RIM devices. However, he doesn't show this. But what he does show is chilling. Now only does Carrier IQ record everything the phone does, but you can't remove it and you can't turn it off.
Carrier IQ released a statement that the only thing being collected is operational information necessary to provide better service, and that the software is installed by the device manufacturers at the factory. Clearly Eckhart's demonstration shows that Carrier IQ is at best disingenuous. The software collects far more than what the company is saying.
But what's less clear is how the software really gets on the phone and what it's actually transmitting to its own servers. Clearly, the part of the software that's on the Android phones is collecting everything. Carrier IQ is being far less than transparent in explaining what's actually going on. And that's not helping clarify what's really going on here. But we do know some things, at least.
Eckhart's demonstration shows that the Carrier IQ software exists on Android devices sold by Sprint. In the demonstration, it was on a device made by HTC. Since that was the only data point that I could confirm, I checked a few other devices I had handy. Here's what I found:
There was no sign of Carrier IQ on the Android phones from Verizon Wireless that I checked. Interestingly, Verizon says that it might collect such information and in its privacy statement explains fully what it may want to collect, and offers an opt-out option. But the Verizon phones I looked at didn't have Carrier IQ installed.

I also checked one Samsung and one HTC phone from T-Mobile and found no sign of Carrier IQ, although the Samsung phone had a logging app that may have a similar function, at least you can turn that one off.

However T-Mobile released a statement saying it does use Carrier IQ for diagnostic purposes.

"T-Mobile utilizes the Carrier IQ diagnostic tool to troubleshoot device and network performance with the goal of enhancing network reliability and our customers' experience. T-Mobile does not use this diagnostic tool to obtain the content of text, email or voice messages, or the specific destinations of a customers' internet activity, nor is the tool used for marketing purposes."
There was no sign of Carrier IQ on any BlackBerry I checked. I asked RIM about this and was told on no uncertain terms that the company had not and would not permit Carrier IQ to be installed on its phones either by RIM or any carrier. The company's concerns for security would seem to back this up, as would its past practices in which it helped remove similar software that was installed in some places in the Middle East.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...