The mobile industry is witnessing one of the biggest privacy issues of all time and the company in the center of this mess is Carrier IQ. Carrier IQ gives mobile intelligence solutions to telecom companies. So if a carrier wants to track its network performance, using Carrier IQ’s solution they can gather insights about their networks interaction with a subscribers device. In countries like US, carriers sell majority of the devices themselves and thus it makes it easy for them to pre-load CarrierIQ on these devices. The solution runs on the background and gives the user no options to configure its settings or remove it.
So how did this service get into trouble? Trevor Eckhart a member of XDA Developers discovered that Carrier IQ might be collecting more than just network data and capturing a lot of private data like emails and text messages (and key keystrokes). Trevor demoed the same on video and an angered Carrier IQ dashed off a legal notice in response. This only snowballed the entire controversy and lead to a lot of criticism for Carrier IQ (the EFF got involved to defend Trevor and Carrier IQ withdrew its notice).
Given the magnitude of privacy concern and security risk involved, a lot of quick responses came in yesterday. Sen. Al Franken wrote a letter to Carrier IQ’s CEO demanding an explanation and at the same time everyone from HTC to Google / Apple issued a statement. At least two US carriers AT&T and Sprint have accepted that they have used Carrier IQ and at the same time CarrierIQ has also issued a statement.
How Big Is the Carrier IQ Case
If you see this Carrier IQ video, you would know that they have shipped the solution in 150 million smartphones and tablets and thats no small number. Thats more than double the footprint of a manufacturer like RIM Blackberry.
A lot of names have come out and given their stance. Apple said that most of its products have done away with Carrier IQ in iOS 5 and even before that the log collection anonymous, was opt-in (users were prompted during setup) and never looked at details like emails or text or key-logged inputs. Apple also clarified that they would be removing Carrier IQ completely from their product line by a software update. Clearly, Apple is worried about an issue as strong as the location bug. At the same time HTC, Blackberry and Google have issued statements and distanced themselves from the controversy. No one is in a good mood for sure!
Now, lets be clear, we aren’t sure for sure what data Carrier IQ collected, where it went and if at all it went out of the handset. But it is clear that there is enough panic in the mobile market and it is neither Android nor Apple, it is the carriers who have caused this.