Carrier IQ: You Cannot Control Your Phone

Here’s the takeaway from the Carrier IQ fiasco: Mobile phone owners have no clue what data-gathering tools are running on their devices, and little ability to control them.

The flap began late last month after Android developer Trevor Eckhart released a 17-minute YouTube video indicating that the little-known application was sending everything you do on your phone back to your carrier — including what websites you visit, what your texts say and what keys you press.

Carrier IQ sends innocuous data from your phone back to your carrier like when and where you sent a text message, when and where a call dropped, and what apps are draining your battery. That information helps carriers find problems. It doesn’t send your keystrokes, the content of your text messages or what websites you visit to your carrier. The log exposed on Eckhart’s video, captured on an HTC EVO 3D from Sprint, turned out to be a specific, one-off issue.

Carrier IQ is installed on an estimated 150 million mobile devices, but the specific problem Eckhart uncovered appears to be limited to a small handful of devices. Each carrier it works with chooses to gather different information from their customers’ phones, and the scope varies widely. But cell phone owners have been largely left in the dark about what carriers are collecting.