If you use an Android, Nokia or BlackBerry phone, you need to know about Carrier IQ.
Here’s the windup: Carrier IQ is software that’s secretly installed on all BlackBerry, Android and Nokia phones. We still wouldn’t know about it if not for 25-year-old Trevor Eckhart who ran some analysis of how it behaves and managed to figure out that it stealthily tracks the user experience, records it, and sends it quietly back to your phone carrier for them to do what they like with it. The explanation, of course, is that it’s meant to be used for quality control purposes, but it goes rather beyond that.
Here’s the pitch: Carrier IQ captures everything… secretly. Eckhart describes the software as a “rootkit” (for those of you who don’t know what “rootkit” means: It’s bad) and actually published a video showing how Carrier IQ intercepted an encrypted HTTPS query to Google, which is not supposed to even be possible. What’s more, it records text messages, keystrokes and… well… everything. Though the company that makes Carrier IQ claims the software is for measuring battery life, analyzing dropped calls, etc., Eckhart’s video clearly demonstrates it’s meant to do way more than that. In fact, it really zinged a nerve with the company as they quickly sent him a Cease and Desist letter and threatened legal action. With the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) behind him, Trevor did get Carrier IQ to rescind their threats and back off.
And the swing: Carrier IQ is not a technology that users can opt out of. Hell, they’re not even informed of it. If you’re using an Android, Nokia or BlackBerry phone, the only way to get Carrier IQ out of your life is to root the phone (something that is beyond the capabilities of the average user) and install an operating system that doesn’t have Carrier IQ pre-installed. Even if you stop paying for cell service and only use Wi-Fi, it will still collect all that data secretly and send it to the mothership.
I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a good little Apple Automaton if I didn’t compare this chilling discovery to what some people call “Locationgate”: The discovery of software on the iPhone that logs the location of nearby cell towers and stores them only locally (on the handset or on your computer). As with a lot of evil things that Google said Apple would do but ended up doing them first (remote removal of apps they don’t want you to have? Sound familiar?), the accusation has sort of reversed and bit them on the ding-dong. Local logs of nearby cell towers or key-captured passwords and encrypted information sent to your carrier? You tell me which sounds worse.