Senator Franken Troubled by Responses to Carrier IQ Questions

Phone makers and cell service providers have responded to Senator Al Franken’s (D-Minn) questions as to how they use Carrier IQ’s mobile data tracking software, and while the various companies he queried did answer his questions, he’s still troubled that consumer’s right to privacy isn’t being respected.

“I appreciate the responses I received, but I’m still very troubled by what’s going on,” Senator Franken said. He added,

People have a fundamental right to control their private information. After reading the companies’ responses, I’m still concerned that this right is not being respected. The average user of any device equipped with Carrier IQ software has no way of knowing that this software is running, what information it is getting, and who it is giving it to-and that’s a problem.

The senator asked Samsung, HTC, AT&T, and Sprint to explain how they use Carrier IQ’s software to collect data from customer’s cell phones, and what happens with that data once it has been collected.

Senator Al FrankenSenator Al Franken

Carrier IQ came under fire when Trevor Eckhart showed that the software was logging all of the keystrokes on his Android-based phone. Carrier IQ denied the accusation, although Mr. Eckhart’s videos clearly showed logs detailing every activity on his phone. According to Carrier IQ, the videos showed data logs maintained by the carrier, and not information it culled.


Phone Makers

Samsung and HTC said they aren’t involved in collecting data from user’s phones. Instead, they install Carrier IQ’s software on devices at the request of cell service providers.

Samsung CEO Dale Sohn said his company has installed the software on some 25 million handsets. HTC CEO Peter Chou echoed Mr. Sohn’s comments, and said that his company has installed Carrier IQ’s software on 6.3 million handsets so far. both said they don’t know what information carriers are collecting with the software.

Mr. Chou added that HTC is “actively investigating and exploring ways to mitigate potential risks to consumers.


Cell Carriers

AT&T and Sprint both said that they use Carrier IQ’s software for diagnostic data, and aren’t tracking user’s activities.

AT&T executive vice president of federal relations said the company started using Carrier IQ’s software in March. He said AT&T doesn’t “use CIQ to obtain the content of customers’ communications, to track where our customers go on the Internet, or to track customer location.”

About 900,000 phones on the AT&T network — or about 1 percent — have Carrier IQ software installed, and about 575,000 handsets are sending data to the company. The software is also part of AT&T’s Mark the Spot app for tagging where calls are dropped, but the code isn’t included in the iPhone version.

Sprint senior vice president of government affairs Vonya McCann said,

Sprint has not used Carrier IQ diagnostics to profile customer behavior, serve targeted advertising, or for any purpose not specifically related to certifying that a device is able to operate on Sprint’s network or otherwise to improve network operations and customer experiences.

Carrier IQ’s software can be found on about 26 million handsets on Sprint’s network, but data is being collected from only 1.3 million at any given time.


Carrier IQ: It’s Not Our Fault

Carrier IQ was targeted with questions from Senator Franken, too, and responded by saying it’s the responsibility of the carriers to collect the data they process. Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s vice president of marketing, added that carriers are gathering at least some data that they shouldn’t.

“To be blunt, there was information there that shouldn’t have been. In order for Carrier IQ to get information off a device, we work with the manufacturers to deliver that information through an API,” he said. “We don’t read from Android log files; we don’t see Android log files. That info just shouldn’t be there. And, ultimately, what goes in that log file is up to the manufacturer.”

Artist rendition: Franken squeezing Carrier IQArtist Rendition: Senator Franken questions Carrier IQ and privacy

That said, Carrier IQ admitted it has been receiving some SMS messages thanks to a bug in its software, although it claims those messages stay encrypted and aren’t ever viewed — a point that alarmed Senator Franken.

The responses Samsung, HTC, AT&T, and Sprint offered may have answered some questions, but Senator Franken isn’t satisfied, which means there’s a good chance he’s not done prodding.

“I’m also bothered by the software’s ability to capture the contents of our online searches-even when users wish to encrypt them,” he said. “So there are still many questions to be answered here and things that need to be fixed.”