CarrierIQ: Follow the money and it is the carriers behind it

Summary:CarrierIQ is snooping on many smartphone owners in the U. S., and the carriers are likely paying them to do so.

If you follow the mobile tech news you have heard about the CarrierIQ situation. A smart fellow who knows how to snoop inside the workings of smartphones uncovered a service from CarrierIQ that is recording everything you do on your smartphone and passes that on to somewhere in the cloud. This snooping was shown to cover every aspect of use on CarrierIQ-enabled phones, even recording keystrokes in text messages.

A natural outrage followed the uncovering of CarrierIQ and what it is doing behind our backs, especially given the demonstration that it can't be disabled by the phone owner. Turning off permission to do snooping doesn't disable what CarrierIQ is doing on the sly. Carriers have been quick to step up and deny using CarrierIQ on their phones to distance themselves from the uproar.

Carriers know that the class-action lawsuits are no doubt going to be filed shortly by outraged customers. There are meetings no doubt happening in glass towers with attorneys champing at the bit to get filing. Customers don't like any company snooping on them, and the level CarrierIQ is carrying it is even worse than expected.

The coverage of the CarrierIQ debacle is centered around the app that is recording the information, as if that is the culprit. Fact is this is just the vehicle to deliver a service that the CarrierIQ company sells to carriers. That's right, carriers pay CarrierIQ to record all of this information to help them troubleshoot network problems that might be caused by individual handset model. It is a legitimate service carried far too deeply. According to experts the recording of text messages may even violate U. S. wiretapping laws. We might see some criminal suits in addition to the civil suits getting ready to fly.

Neither CarrierIQ nor the carriers were willing to talk about this mess, but visiting the CarrierIQ web site clearly details what they do and for whom. Their service is aimed directly at the carriers, and it is obvious they don't provide it for free. That means every carrier with phones using CarrierIQ, and it sound like many of them in the U. S., have a contract with the company to do the snooping for the troubleshooting. If you follow the money it starts with the carrier, and when proof of this leaks out the lawsuits are going to grow teeth.

Everyone in the loop is quick to point out that this deep level snooping is anonymous and can't compromise individual privacy. This one statement on the CarrierIQ site tends to differ with that claim (emphasis mine):

What's more, the combination of the MSIP and IQ Insight lets you move seamlessly from broad trend data across many users, through comparative groups down to diagnostic data from individual devices. Now, not only can you identify trends, you have the power to drill down to specific instances, giving you the insight your specialists need to make a difference. That is the power of Mobile Service Intelligence.

I doubt that any company wanted to actually snoop on its customers. Maybe I am naive but the legal exposure to doing so is not in any company's interest. I envision the engineers at CarrierIQ deciding to record as much user activity as possible so the carrier's experts would have it just in case. The carrier's experts probably don't realize what all of this information recorded by CarrierIQ is, nor do they even look at it.

Ignorance is no excuse, however, and both CarrierIQ and any carrier using its service are now in deep water. This is not going to blow over, as the level of snooping is just too great and folks are already too outraged. That in turn creates the perfect storm for the lawsuits to begin, and federal agencies to begin investigating this whole situation. Then the carriers paying for the service will turn against CarrierIQ to defend themselves, and it is going to get incestuous and nasty. Like the CarrierIQ service, this will end up being all about money. It usually does.

Topics: Mobility

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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