What’s Worse? Carrier IQ, The Carriers, Or Our Paranoia?

Carrier IQ: Friend or Foe?

Is it really paranoia if the world is out to get you? The latest scandal to hit headlines is Carrier IQ. It’s software used to diagnose network, hardware or application failures on mobile devices. The issue is that it sends this info to your carrier, without your consent. Does that mean its evil?

Trevor Eckhart—a security researcher—discovered the Carrier IQ app and reported that it could possibly log everything your phone does. News travels fast on the web, especially with social media. The fact this app is found on over 100 million phones only adds fuel to the fire.

Carrier IQ could have gone transparent and peacefully worked with Mr. Eckhart to shed some light on the matter and work with him to find a solution. Instead the company got defensive. It launched legal assaults and contradictory press releases.

While uproar spread it turns out far less data really is logged. Somewhat good news but reports still conflict each other. Without the full story it’s not surprising at least three lawsuits against Carrier IQ have appeared.

Is Carrier IQ at fault? It only makes the software. A statement made by the company states “our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video.”

Maybe it’s the carriers fault? They use and deploy the software in ways we might not approve. Gathering data on what you were doing when your phone crashes is valuable though. It allows for updates to ensure you have a smooth and error-free mobile experience. Just because the software can gather more info, does that mean the carriers are using it to spy on you?

The pain point here is the ‘opt-in’ factor. Facebook has been criticized heavily over the years for applying new features that opt you in to public share settings by default. They’ve since revised their approach so your privacy settings are front and center, putting you in the clear driver’s seat.

With Carrier IQ, currently only Apple has enabled the service to require your permission to aid in sending diagnostic info. You can turn it off (here’s how).

Personal info is collected all the time though. How do you think location based services and targeted ads work? Even going to the grocery store, my Save-On-More card may get me points but it also logs data on when I shop, what I buy, and my spending habits. Am I ‘opting in’ simply by using the card? Should I stop using it? No, I want 200 points for those eggs.

I’m not surprised that the device I carry around with me everywhere may contain info of where I travel and what I do. If it sends info when it crashes to my carrier, so be it. If it’s sending my texts messages and my pictures for some technician to pry through, well that’s another story.

So is this really a big deal? Should Carrier IQ be shut down? Or do we blame our carriers for not letting us opt in to it? Perhaps we’re so paranoid that our privacy is no longer private that we’ll make a big deal out of anything. Are they really out to get us, or do we just think that? Thanks paranoia…

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.