MacOS KenDensed: Carrier IQ’s Privacy Game

Ken RayIt’s the holiday season, and Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray is getting all kinds of presents from the technology news world. Carrier IQ’s data tracking, the App Store’s iTether dance, more Apple Television rumors, and a tribute to Steve Jobs’s patents are all wrapped up with bows for Ken’s enjoyment.

Carier IQ: Show Me What You Got
So there’s been this thing going on with Android phones this week. Well, it’s been going on with Android phones for a while, but it’s come to light over the past week or so, about a bit of software on Android phones that was meant to help carriers and phone makers do quality control. Thing is Android developer Trevor Eckhart says it actually keeps track of nearly everything someone does with their phone, according to a piece about the issue from Wired.

Wired says the software, called Carrier IQ, is installed on most modern Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones, and Eckhart says it logs text messages, encrypted web searches, and other things that would seem unnecessary as far as quality control is concerned. And he’s got video that seems to show Carrier IQ doing just that — and sending the info to Carrier IQ’s servers.

It sounds bad, and I had no intention of even mentioning it since it had nothing to do with Apple or iPhones.

That is until iPhone Dev Team member chpwn found references to Carrier IQ in iOS 5. Good news here. Carrier IQ’s presence in iOS 5 appears to be harmless. According to The Unofficial Apple Weblog, “Apple’s inclusion of Carrier IQ does not, in our first estimation, appear to be a root kit or threaten privacy.”

Still, the reference is there, and so we concern ourselves with it.

TechCrunch has Apple responding to the reference, saying:

We stopped supporting CarrierIQ with iOS 5 in most of our products and will remove it completely in a future software update. With any diagnostic data sent to Apple, customers must actively opt-in to share this information, and if they do, the data is sent in an anonymous and encrypted form and does not include any personal information. We never recorded keystrokes, messages or any other personal information for diagnostic data and have no plans to ever do so.

Most of our products. I’d like to feel a tiny bit more comfortable. Still, I’ve trusted Apple with a lot, so I guess I’m comfortable enough.

Business Insider says Research In Motion issued a statement saying not only does it not install Carrier IQ on its phones, it doesn’t authorize carriers to do so, either.

So our options here seem to be Eckhart’s wrong or lying, Research In Motion is lying, or carriers don’t care what Research In Motion authorizes and are somehow sneaking Carrier IQ onto BlackBerries anyway.

A separate Business Insider piece has Nokia saying it doesn’t authorize Carrier IQ on its devices. The Finnish phone-maker says reports that the software is on its phones are “inaccurate.” Besides, they say, Carrier IQ doesn’t support Nokia phones, so it can’t be installed later.

So our options here seem to be Eckhart’s wrong or lying, Nokia is lying, or carriers don’t care what Nokia authorizes and are somehow sneaking Carrier IQ onto Nokia phones anyway.

HTC issued an interesting statement. AllThingsD has the Taiwanese phone maker saying, “Carrier IQ is required on devices by a number of U.S carriers so if consumers or media have any questions about the practices relating to, or data collected by, Carrier IQ we’d advise them to contact their carrier. HTC is investigating the option to allow consumers to opt-out of data collection by the Carrier IQ application.”

So it’s the CARRIERS!

And from GigaOm, “Any report that Verizon Wireless uses Carrier IQ is patently false,” says Verizon Wireless.

Meanwhile, a second piece from GigaOM has Sprint — HTC’s biggest customer in the states — saying, “oh yeah, we use Carrier IQ, though not for the data logging spy thing.”

The piece has old yeller saying that the software-slash-service “supplies Sprint generalized data about how its customers’ smartphones perform on its network, but Sprint does not snoop into the private contents of those phones.”

In fact, Sprint says it couldn’t do that if it wanted to.

Really? ‘cause they’ve got this thing called Carrier IQ that’ll… *cough*

Taking a similar stance, the Death Star. Yet another Business Insider piece has AT&T issuing a teeny-tiny statement, saying, “In-line with our privacy policy, we solely use (Carrier IQ) software data to improve wireless network and service performance.”

Senator Al Franken (Democrat/Minnesota) wants answers from Carrier IQ. Tends to kind of be his thing.

Business Insider says Franken has sent a letter to Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart seeking details on how the software works and what kind of info it can pull from a person’s phone.

In the letter, Franken writes:

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.

Less in response to Senator Franken, more in response to the various villagers with their pitchforks and torches, a separate Business Insider piece says Carrier IQ issued a statement over a week after the story became a story.

Boiling it down, they say their software is for quality control.

“While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools. The metrics and tools we derive are not designed to deliver such information, nor do we have any intention of developing such tools,” they said.

Except that guy Eckhart has video that seems to indicate you kind of already have.

“The information gathered by Carrier IQ,” continues Carrier IQ, “is done so for the exclusive use of that customer, and Carrier IQ does not sell personal subscriber information to 3rd parties. The information derived from devices is encrypted and secured within our customer’s network or in our audited and customer-approved facilities.”

Just a reminder: When Carrier IQ talks about the customer they’re not referring to the person who owns the phone.

“Our customers have stringent policies and obligations on data collection and retention. Each customer is different and our technology is customized to their exacting needs and legal requirements,” then they go back to the part where it’s all about quality.

Dissatisfied with the statement: Business Insider. They call it “weak” and say there “are still a ton of questions left wide open.”

To be continued… to be sure.

The Great Tether Game
Sometimes you really have to wonder what’s going on in the App Store, or the room where they review apps for the App Store. Apple approved an app this week that gave users unlimited tethering through their iPhone for either a Mac or a PC.

This was not one of those sneaky apps with secret tethering functionality built-in like that flashlight app from a year or so ago. This was an app for tethering. Called iTether.

Approved by Apple for the rather reasonable price of US$14.99.

9to5 Mac says that whatcha do is buy the app, download the corresponding app for the Mac or PC from the developer’s site, hook the two machines together with your USB cord and away you go.

Oh I forgot, you’ll also need a time machine because — of course — the app was pulled from Apple’s App Store. I don’t get why it was approved, and Tether, the company that made iTether, doesn’t get why it was removed.

A separate piece on the app from The Mac Observer says Tether got a call from Apple at about noon Eastern yesterday, saying they were going to pull the app.

The company says Apple:

stated it was because the app itself burdens the carrier network, however they offered us no way to remedy the solution… We were very clear when listing the app what the primary function was and they even followed up with several questions and requested a video demo then they approved the application.

If you were lucky enough to get the app in the blink-of-an-eye that it was available you can continue to use it, though you can also likely expect a nasty-gram from your wireless carrier letting you know that you’re not doing it the way they’d like you to do it and suggesting a few ways you can, mostly involving more fees.

iPads, iPhones, and Apple TVs. Again.
Apple is, right now, working on a TV and an iPad 3 and an iPhone 5 or 6 or… whatever Apple’s gonna call the next iPhone. So says a note from a guy paid to know somethin’ about somethin’.

Two of those three are dead certs, by the way, and the other one is kind of sort of anyone’s guess.

A research note from Jefferies and Company analyst Peter Misek last week said bad news about iPads was overblown but he was cutting his iPad sales expectation by 3 million units anyway. Yeah, that note has the points in it about the next iPad, the next iPhone, and the TV, too.

For the next iPhone and iPad, Misek thinks Apple has taken over one of Sharp’s production lines, locking up between half-a-billion and a billion-dollars worth of displays for the next iPad and the next iPhone.

He thinks production on iPad 3 screens began a couple of weeks ago, and that they should “achieve 330 dpi, which is sufficient for an HD display” and should be “thinner, battery life should be longer, and the overall experience for users should be meaningfully improved.”

Ahhh. I’m starting to hate my iPad 2 already.

“Even after the iPad 3 launch,” says Misek, “we believe Apple will continue to produce the iPad 2 and will lower the price by $100 to $200.”

As for the TV, Misek says his firm believes Apple has already taken over a production like “at the Gen 10 Sakai facility and (is producing) a modified version of the Amorphous TFT,” which I’m given to understand is one of the best looking and one of the most expensive screen technologies out there. Taking over the line, he says, could mean a launch for Apple’s — I’m going to say — fabled television as early as the middle of next year.

So from Steve Jobs saying “I’ve cracked it” last summer to Apple producing a television this summer without much in the way of content deals, except CBS saying we weren’t interested in Apple’s proposal for a television service.

Still, a tiny part of me wonders whether we’ll hear something about this the week between Christmas and the new year, which is when we started hearing serious, hard-core rumors about the iPad in late 2009.

I don’t think we will, but it would be interesting if we did.

Steve Jobs Patent-palooza
And finally this week, do you find patents interesting? Well, first of all you’re a nerd. Best you hear it from a friend. And second, you should go to Washington, D.C. Well, that area, anyway.

AppleInsider says the US Patent and Trademark Office has put together an exhibit highlighting patents and trademarks with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ name on ‘em.

The organization says the exhibit, called The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World, “commemorates the far-reaching impact of Steve Jobs’ entrepreneurship and innovation on our daily lives. His patents and trademarks provide a striking example of the importance intellectual property plays in the global marketplace.”


The piece says the exhibit “features 30 large iPhone-shaped interactive displays with detailed information regarding Jobs’ over 300 patents.”

The presentation runs through January 15th, 2012. It’s free to the public, and is located at the USPTO’s campus in Alexandria, Virginia.