Windows Secrets Newsletter: Putting Carrier IQ in perspective

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By Woody Leonhard/Windows Secrets Newsletter

A YouTube video by Trevor Eckhart documents a litany of privacy-busting transgressions made by Carrier IQ, a software program factory-installed on mobile phones.

Almost every news outlet in the U.S. seems to have run the story about Carrier IQ as if 1984 had finally arrived, with Big Brother (in large, corporate form) working the phones — our smartphones in this case. But is that view accurate?

It’s not surprising that Trevor’s allegations generated an extraordinary level of press coverage. It’s an attention-grabbing story: Carrier IQ produces a data-gathering program used by telephone companies to retrieve information from specific smartphones, including models made by Apple and many Android phones from Samsung, HTC, and other manufacturers. The software is installed on more than a 100 million phones at the request of service providers, including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The brouhaha catches the attention of the U.S. Senate; Senator Al Franken demands answers. And newly minted mobile-device experts opine on every conceivable aspect of the controversy. Amid sometimes wild allegations and threats, class-action lawsuits loom. It’s grand drama, indeed.

Frankly, I’m astounded that nobody publicized the Carrier IQ data activity earlier. In use for years, the software (info page) is supposed to help phone companies keep track of problems with their networks. Carrier IQ claims its software runs on more than 140 million smartphones.

So is there any substance to the allegations of widespread and irreversible privacy abuse? The real picture of the Carrier IQ controversy is just starting to emerge. Permit me to explain why I think this frenzy in the media is mostly sound and fury, signifying very little.

Here’s the rest of the story.

This post is excerpted with permission from Windows Secrets.

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