Finger-Pointing, Denials and Confusion: Who Put Keystroke-Tracking Software On Your Phone, Anyway?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Carrier IQ

With U.S. Senators getting involved in the issue about whether or not Americans’ cell activity is being monitored and recorded without their permission, it’s worth asking the most obvious question: How did the offending Carrier IQ software get onto the mobile devices in the first place?

Despite being initially identified as manufacturing devices using Carrier IQ, both Nokia and RIM have since denied any responsibility, with Nokia calling such claims “inaccurate” and uncategorically saying that “these reports are wrong,” while Research in Motion issued a statement saying that the company “does not pre-install the CarrierIQ application on BlackBerry smartphones and has never done so,” adding that it also “does not authorize its carrier partners to install the CarrierIQ application on BlackBerry smartphones before sales or distribution and has never done so.”

Similarly, Google has announced that the company does “not have an affiliation with CarrierIQ,” adding that “Android is an open source effort and we do not control how carriers or OEMs customize their devices.” HTC, meanwhile, has gone one stage further, releasing a statement that not only makes clear that “HTC is not a customer or partner of Carrier IQ and does not receive data from the application, the company, or carriers that partner with Carrier IQ,” but firmly places blame elsewhere by adding that “Carrier IQ is required on devices by a number of U.S. carriers.”

(MORE: Carrier IQ ‘Wiretap’ Debacle: Much Ado About Something?)

So, it’s all on the carriers, then? Apparently so; Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Virge issued a statement about the subject:

Carrier IQ provides information that allows Sprint, and other carriers that use it, to analyze our network performance and identify where we should be improving service.  We also use the data to understand device performance so we can figure out when issues are occurring. We collect enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to address any connection problems, but we do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool. The information collected is not sold and we don’t provide a direct feed of this data to anyone outside of Sprint.

AT&T, which has also admitted to using Carrier IQ, defended its usage in similar terms, explaining that the information is only used to “improve wireless network and service performance.” Verizon, meanwhile, strongly denies any link to Carrier IQ with spokesman Jeffrey Nelson telling GigaOM that “Any report that Verizon Wireless uses Carrier IQ is patently false.” T-Mobile has yet to respond to requests for a comment on the matter.

And what about Carrier IQ itself? Well, it’s punting on the subject, with VP of marketing Andrew Coward telling The Verge’s Sean Hollister that the company currently has no comment and doesn’t plan to issue any comment until external security companies independently validate the security implications of Trevor Eckhart’s initial report–something that sounds, on the face of it, as if the company had no idea what its own product was actually doing, which doesn’t exactly raise confidence.

For those concerned about the idea of someone tracking your cellphone use, there is one surefire solution: Get a new iPhone. Apple announced yesterday that, while it has used Carrier IQ in the past, it no longer supports the software and future iOS updates will remove any trace of it completely. Guess they learned their lesson from ‘Locationgate’ earlier this year…

MORE: Guess How Much ‘Locationgate’ Has Cost Apple (So Far)

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.