Revelations that several smartphone brands contain a secret usage tracking software from Carrier IQ has resulted in a storm of controversy and at least two class action law suits against the firm.
Carrier IQ is essential a third-party metrics service or quality-of-service application, which the firm admits has been installed in up to 140 million handsets. Not one person asked for it, nor even knew it was installed.
So when security researcher Trevor Eckhart uncovered the application and showed that it had been given the ultimate access to log everything including location and key presses, alarm bells began to ring worldwide. Not the least since Carrier IQ issued a Cease and Desist letter against Eckhart. As the PR disaster spiraled out of control, Carrier IQ issued a retraction and said issuing the letter was ‘misguided’.
Carrier IQ moved to downplay the controversy, saying that key presses were not logged, saying online that: "We measure and summarize performance of the device to assist Operators in delivering better service." Eckhart then published a video that demonstrated the key logging explicitly.
Hooks for the software were even in Apple’s iPhone although Apple quickly moved to say that Carrier IQ is not used in iOS 5 and will be completely removed in the future but the firm is the subject of at least one lawsuit regardless.
US class action lawsuits have since been filed against Carrier IQ and handset makers HTC and Samsung, alleging violations of the US Wiretap Act. Another lawsuit is targeting US network operators AT&T, Sprint, Apple and T-Mobile.
Without a mobile operator enabling Carrier IQ, the software may never be activated on phones or not installed in the first place. The Telegraph said that no British carrier currently used Carrier IQ.
The Register was also apparently shown technical details as part of an interview with Carrier IQ marketing chief Andrew Coward which apparently convinced El Reg that the software "doesn’t represent a privacy threat to handset owners."
Android users, however, may not be so easily convinced that Carrier IQ is a benign presence on their phone. Several apps have appeared on the Android Market which claim to detect whether the phone has Carrier IQ installed.