The latest Carrier IQ public relations fiasco seems to have vindicated free software advocate Richard Stallman at long last. If you haven’t been keeping up on your tech news lately, here’s a quick recap. Late in November, Connectictut-based programmer Trevor Eckhardt released a series of YouTube videos detailing Carrier IQ’s tracking software, which seemed to be logging every keystroke entered into his Android phone. Android developers first noticed Carrier IQ’s suspicious behavior in February of 2011, but mainstream awareness of its existence didn’t crop up until recently.
How Carrier IQ Works
The party line as told by Carrier IQ brass is that their software is meant to help cellular service providers optimize their networks by analyzing the manner in which customers use their phones. They also deny the allegation that their software is used to collect personal information. Eckhardt disputes that claim, stating that Carrier IQ records every keystroke users make on their phones. He characterized the software as a rootkit, in that it attempts to evade a user’s attempts to remove it. Some analysts even claim that Carrier IQ violated federal wiretapping laws by installing its software on millions of phones.
What Information Is Being Sent
Eckhardt’s videos show how Carrier IQ appears to log every keystroke he enters, even on sites that are protected with the secure HTTPS protocol. Whether or not Carrier IQ actually has the ability to log keystrokes and transmit that data is uncertain. Some have come forward to defend Carrier IQ, pointing out that there’s no solid evidence as of yet that they’ve recorded any personal data. As far as we know, Carrier IQ only transmits location information as well as data usage. Still, many feel that embedding that kind of software within their phone’s operating system is crossing a line.
Phones Affected and User Response
In the developing aftermath of Eckhardt’s revelations, companies are wasting no time in distancing themselves from Carrier IQ. Apple has confirmed that iOS 5, the operating system found on the latest iPads and iPhones, is now free of the software. Numerous Android handsets still have it installed, however. Fortunately, removing it is relatively simple and straightforward. While the fix may be easy, the entire situation is seen as a breach of trust by many phone users. This most recent scandal highlights the importance of knowing where your software is coming from, what information it’s collecting, and what the creators are doing with it.