For many of us, our smartphones are our lifelines. They are our address books and our email in-boxes, our cameras and our music playlists. We use them for work
and for intensely personal business, so it's more than a little creepy
to know that software pre-installed on our phone could be keeping track
of -- and sharing information about -- our every move.
The Carrier IQ controversy started when security researchers discovered that, on some phones, it was acting as much more than the diagnostic tool it was supposed to be. Android developer Trevor Eckhart added fuel to the fire when he wrote a blog post detailing the kinds of things the software was keeping track of -- things like your incoming and outgoing text messages, the websites you visit when you use your smart phone's browser, and even the phone numbers you dial. In a YouTube video this week, he used his own HTC EVO 3D Android phone as a guinea pig, letting viewers watch in real-time as he rooted around under the hood to show how Carrier IQ was collecting data deep in the background.
The software comes pre-installed on many phones (it's running right now on more than 141 million devices, according to Information Week), and most consumers can't delete it -- in fact, digging around and doing so would void the warranty on most phones.
Carrier IQ says that its software has been misunderstood. "Our software is embedded by device manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools and software prior to shipment," the company said in a November 16 statement. "While we look at many aspects of a device's performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools."
So is your phone affected?
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all have Carrier ID running on smartphones on their networks, and use the diagnostic tool to monitor user activity, according to CNN. Verizon Wireless customers can relax, at least for now; Verizon tells CNN that they don't use any such diagnostic tool at all.
If you're using a phone with Google's Android operating system, then your phone probably has Carrier IQ running on it; Google's Nexus line, which is made my Samsung, is the only one that doesn't run the software. PCWorld reports that Android developer and computer forensics specialist Francois Simond on Friday released Voodoo Carrier IQ Detector, an app that you can use to see if your phone is running Carrier IQ (it only checks to see whether Carrier IQ is on your phone; removing it is far more complicated.)
If you have an iPhone, Apple told Forbes Magazine that it captures the time and length of your call, the battery strength of your phone, and the signal strength in your location -- and only when your phone is in diagnostic mode. Nothing scary or Big-Brother-y about that. Apple also says that an upcoming software update will "completely eliminate Carrier IQ from all iPhones and iPads," CNN Money reported. In the meantime, you can opt not to send any diagnostic information to apple at all: "To opt out, navigate to Settings -> General -> About and scroll down to Diagnostics & Usage. Inside you'll find two options, Automatically Send and Don't Send-tap Don't Send, and your data will still be logged, but it won't be sent to Apple," the experts at MacWorld.com suggest.
Research in Motion said in a statement that they don't install Carrier IQ on BlackBerry devices, nor do they allow service carriers to install it.
Does the Carrier IQ controversy make you worry about using your smartphone?
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