UK operators have denied using the Carrier IQ mobile data-logger, which has sparked privacy concerns over its tracking of data usage on smartphones.
UK operators have denied using Carrier IQ data-logging software on their handsets, after a researcher posted a video (pictured) of the program recording keystrokes and other data. Image credit: Trevor Eckhart/YouTube
However, the software may still be on their customers' handsets, as none of the operators was able to tell ZDNet UK on Friday whether the app was on their devices anyway, placed there by the manufacturer.
IQ is a 'mobile intelligence' tool sold by a California-based company of the same name
to device manufacturers, who embed it in their products to gather anonymised metrics data for operators. HTC and Samsung have admitted installing it on their hardware, and Apple has said it used it in pre-iOS 5 iPhones.
The software, which tracks much of the customer's data usage, has been described
as a "rootkit" by a security researcher who publicised its
widespread use. However, Carrier IQ has said (PDF) the tool is merely "counting and summarising
performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking
All four major UK operators told ZDNet UK that they do not use Carrier IQ. However, the picture was markedly
less clear when it came to whether the smartphones they sell have the software on them.
it does not use Carrier IQ. Vodafone said it does not add the software
to its handsets, and never has. Everything Everywhere, which
encompasses the T-Mobile and Orange brands, said it did not "install
or activate" Carrier IQ. O2 said it does not put the software on its
"Our understanding is that the handset manufacturers
might install it so that they can collect diagnostic data. But if they
do, it's not on our behalf, and we don't have access to any of the data
that may be collected," an O2 spokesperson said, adding that the
operator was not aware of the app being on any of its
The researcher who highlighted the use of Carrier IQ,
Trevor Eckhart, found it on an HTC Android phone. Although he said it
was present on other Android devices, on that particular handset he
apparently found it to be logging keystrokes and reading both HTTP and
HTTPS webpage details.
Eckhart called the app a rootkit as it
gives privileged access to the smartphone while mostly evading
detection. It cannot be uninstalled without rooting the device, it
cannot be deactivated, it turns on when the phone turns on, and there
is no opt-in.
Carrier IQ responded to Eckhart's publication of his findings by
sending a cease-and-desist letter. The Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF) stepped in and Carrier
IQ backed off and apologised.
At the same time, the company
said its software is intended only to make phones work better by
identifying dropped calls, "trending problems" and "problems that
impede a phone's battery life". It is also meant to make customer service
"quicker, more accurate and more efficient", Carrier IQ said.
Nokia has denied reports that its devices use Carrier IQ's software. On Thursday, as US senator Al
Franken weighed in with a series of questions for Carrier IQ, BlackBerry maker RIM
also said it did not place the app on its hardware. Apple said it used to use it on
iPhones but stopped with the iOS 5 release earlier this
Windows Phone product design chief Joe Belfiore said
on Twitter that handsets using Microsoft's mobile OS "don't have
Carrier IQ on them either".
All Things D on Thursday that US carriers "required" that the
manufacturer install Carrier IQ on its phones. Verizon Wireless has
denied requiring it, although Sprint and AT&T have both said they do.
Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviewsdelivered directly to your inbox with ="http:>ZDNet UK'snewsletters.