Bloomberg News

AT&T, Sprint Defend Use of Carrier IQ User Tracking Software

December 05, 2011

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. defended the use of Carrier IQ software in a usage tracking application on mobile phones including Apple Inc. iPhones and HTC Corp. devices that has raised privacy concerns.

The Carrier IQ software is a so-called rootkit installed at the carriers’ request on mobile phones. The application runs in the background and logs user activity. AT&T and Sprint, the second- and third-largest U.S. wireless providers, said in e- mailed statements that the software data is used to improve service performance.

The software created by Mountain View, California-based Carrier IQ Inc. is at the center of a growing controversy over how mobile phone user data is collected and the extent to which privacy may be jeopardized.

Alarms started soon after Trevor Eckhart, an independent security researcher, posted a 17-minute YouTube video Nov. 28 detailing data logs collected by Carrier IQ and showing keys pressed and features activated by a phone user. The issue has been described as “deeply troubling” by Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, who said that Congress should act “quickly” to protect consumers’ privacy.

“Carrier IQ is required on devices by a number of U.S carriers,” Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC said in an e-mailed statement. The company is “investigating the option to allow consumers to opt out of data collection” by the application.

‘Remove it Completely’

Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Apple, said in an e- mailed statement that the Cupertino, California-based company “stopped supporting Carrier IQ with iOS 5 in most of our products and will remove it completely in a future software update.”

Phone makers Nokia Oyj. and Research In Motion Ltd. have said they don’t install Carrier IQ. Verizon Wireless, which is majority owned by Verizon Communications Inc., doesn’t use anything like Carrier IQ’s software, Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

Usage tracking is a relatively common feature on many applications and it’s generally disclosed in user-agreement terms. Theoretically, the software can help inform phone or software companies when there are issues and record the circumstances surrounding the event.

In the Carrier IQ case, users aren’t made aware of the tracking system nor are they given an option to shut down the surveillance feature.

In a statement Nov. 16, Carrier IQ said its software is designed to improve user experience and is embedded in devices by manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools. The company also says it doesn’t sell personal subscriber information to third parties.

Both Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint and AT&T said they are committed to protecting their customers privacy and security. AT&T, based in Dallas, says it adheres to its privacy policies when using Carrier IQ.

--Editors: Niamh Ring, Romaine Bostick

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Moritz in New York at smoritz6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net


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