Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

Summary: Sen. Al Franken, who was instrumental in bringing location privacy legislation after this year's "Locationgate" scandal, is seeking answers after mobile phone software was used to track users' location and collect personal data.

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TOPICS: Security, Legal, Mobility
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The backlash over phone-tracking firm CarrierIQ has snowballed to Washington, as members of the Senate are demanding answers to discover exactly what the software records.

Senator Al Franken is specifically asking whether the data is transmitted back to the developer company, or handed over to third-parties, and whether the privacy rights of American consumers has been violated.

It would make the location-tracking data 'bug' earlier this year look like a raindrop in an ocean.

Earlier this week, a video showed how software embedded in many mobile phone manufacturers' software, including iPhones and Android devices, collects keystrokes, location, and other deeply personal information of its users.

The furore has angered many consumers, after it was found that the software, deeply embedded within the software of the world's most popular mobile phone operating systems, was collecting information not limited to:

  • when they turn their phones on;
  • when they turn their phones off;
  • the phone numbers they dial;
  • the contents of text messages they receive;
  • the URLs of the websites they visit; the contents of their online search queries -- even when those searches are encrypted;
  • and the location of the customer using the smartphone -- even when the customer has expressly denied permission for an app that is currently running to access his or her location.

With the risk that it could have violated federal wiretapping laws, and given the fact that Carrier IQ, the developer of the software, has mysteriously gone silent, Sen. Franken demands to know what, how, and why.

Franken sent an open letter to the company's president and chief executive Larry Lenhart, with a list of questions about what the company does, and how it conducts itself.

In a statement on his senate.gov website, Franken said:

"Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information.

The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling. This news underscores the need for Congress to act swiftly to protect the location information and private, sensitive information of consumers.

But right now, Carrier IQ has a lot of questions to answer".

Earlier this year, the Senate introduced the Location Privacy Protection Act, which would oblige companies such as Carrier IQ to obtain explicit permission from its unwitting customers before tracking their location, or sharing such information with third parties.

ZDNet columnist James Kendrick says that mobile carriers will be aware that class-action suits are "no doubt going to be filed shortly by outraged customers", he foresees that some criminal suits in addition to civil suits could "getting ready to fly".

The full text of his letter can be found here [PDF].

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Topics: Security, Legal, Mobility

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15 comments
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  • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

    When you state that "deeply embedded within the software of the world???s most popular mobile phone operating systems" I think you are misinforming your readers.
    Does Linus Torvalds know this is in the Kernel. Of course not because it is not. this is vendor added not part of the system. If CarrierIQ created the software then I doubt that Google's Android nor Apple's I OS has it deeply embedded in the "Operating System" Place the blame on the carriers where it belongs.
    phil9x
    • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

      @phil9x It isn't embedded in the OS, but it certainly is of "rootkit" level where it can record everything prior to Apps or OS handling things.
      grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
    • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

      @phil9x <br><br>No, I disagree...Apple and Google made the OS. They have control of what can and can't be done by the carriers or 3rd party vendors. Microsoft Windows Phone DOES NOT HAVE THIS ISSUE! That's because MS has greater control over its OS! Google's Android is an OS nightmare....so many flavors and versions in the last 3 years it will make your head spin but that's what you'd expect from a company that launches Beta products at best. They have to keep on tweaking the crap because it wasn't ready from day 1! Apple is just Apple and thinks it's untouchable! I remember when MS thought the same way and it blew up in their face! This is the sort of crap that should have consumers outgraged! Don't protect Google or Apple because you were foolish and bought into their hype! Own up to it, post your phone on ebay and make the move to Windows Phone!
      Rob.sharp
  • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

    I want to know if OEMs knew of this behavior before hand.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

      @Cylon Centurion They did, because the carriers requested that they install the software on handsets for their service.

      The European Androids I've looked at, both carrier branded and unbranded, don't have the software installed.
      wright_is
  • Pot. Grill. Kettle.

    I want to know if I'm the only one laughing out loud at the prospect of U.S. Government officials coming to rescue us from invasions of privacy.
    Robert Hahn
    • Of course...

      @Robert Hahn <br>...because enlightened captains of industry focused solely on profit understand that betraying the interests of the customers who pay them will result in instant bankruptcy, unless they don't get caught, most customers don't understand the issue, or all of the other vendors are doing exactly the same thing.
      John L. Ries
    • RE: Pot. Grill. Kettle.

      @Robert Hahn

      Nope...you are definitely not the only one. Pitiful, isn't it.
      GregGold
    • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

      @Robert Hahn
      Senators have smart phones too and they probably have more reason than most to keep what is on them private...
      GrumpyOldMan
  • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

    Don't worry the Stupidlicans will defend the carriers right to your personal info...especially if they are sharing it with the government whenever asked... After all it's business...it creates jobs
    rby09
    • Pretty stupid...

      <i>"Don't worry the Stupidlicans will defend the carriers right to your personal info...""</i>

      Yet, it's the democrats who benefit the most by spying on the habits and data of all Americans, for, they are the ones who want to control everything people do, from cradle to grave. It's the communism which is inherent in their progressive, aka: communist, ideology.

      Wake up and learn the facts.
      adornoe
      • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

        @adornoe@...

        + 1
        JTONLY
  • Privacy is scarce

    Privacy is scarce but it is still important. This is more than data gathering for use by a vendor or cell carrier; I would be interested in knowing if a tabloid reporter can access this information or if a sex predator can intercept information to stalk a victim. I do not find it acceptable for my phone to be used against me for non legal purposes.
    sboverie
  • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

    In a related story, the price of "dumb" phones that are 10 years old has just skyrocketed.
    rapple37
  • RE: Senator demands answers over Carrier IQ mobile phone tracking

    My question is still privacy related, but more on the legal compliance side... How many phones or devices with CarrierIQ are in hospitals being used by staff to transmit PHI (Protected/Private Health Information) to central servers. My thoughts on this are now in line with the idea that any device with CIQ on it results in the need to report to USHHS/OCR a breach of privacy and security caused by a third party. Quite possibly the same for other privacy regulations, how does this affect Sarbanes-Oxley? I see a lot of problems popping up for anyone that has allowed "bring your own device" to flourish in any company. Until devices are able to be completely imaged and controlled by corporate IT depts, they have no business in business.
    l_creech