Over the past few weeks a controversy has been brewing in the mobile world surrounding the use of Carrier IQ software, a diagnostic tool found on most major smartphone brands in America. Manufacturers and carriers alike use Carrier IQ to locate and troubleshoot network and device issues through users’ mobile devices, and to do so the program collects usage data, tracks location and thus once again seemingly presents a major privacy breech for users.
The issues, as put forward by critics such as Android developer Trevor Eckhart, are that the Carrier IQ software collects far too much data (user’s text, phone, and data habits for instance), it collects said data covertly, and it stores the data without user knowledge or consent.
Since the story initially broke there has once again been a substantial outcry from the general public, protests so vociferous that Sprint, one of the company’s who admitted to using the Carrier IQ software on its devices, is now disabling the tool.
After weeks of defending its use of the Carrier IQ software on its phones, Sprint is knuckling-under to the mounting number of customer complaints regarding privacy and data collection. In statement Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge-Walsh said, “We have weighed customer concerns and we have disabled use of the tool so that diagnostic information and data is no longer being collected.”
But here’s the interesting part in my mind, Sprint has been using the Carrier IQ software on a host of devices since 2006 and it’s found on millions of Sprint devices. As explained by the company, “There are approximately 26 million active Sprint devices that have the Carrier IQ software installed…Sprint only ‘tasks’ (queries information about) a fraction of these devices at any one time (a maximum of 1.3 million) for its diagnostic needs; and then only a subset of devices–approximately 30,000–are tasked to research specific problems, (e.g., in-network roaming in a given area) with any query.”
It never ceases to amaze me to see the public outcry when some new analyst, journalist, or blogger points out the ongoing privacy issue relating to the latent tracking ability found on smartphones, so before I go any further let me say once again: Your smartphone tracks you!
We’ve known for almost a year now that Apple has embedded a latent tracking tool in its iOS that tracks, locates, and records a users whereabouts to help the company better understand users habits, mobile proclivities, and monitor device performance to help future developments. We’ve also heard that Google uses Android to track its devices in much the same way, information that the company uses for a host of diagnostic and marketing reasons.
Now the question on everyone’s mind is what right do companies have to do that? The answer, unfortunately for those that don’t read the fine print of their user agreements, is they have every right in the world, as you agree to those terms when you purchase and activate your device. The bottom line is that since the dawn of the Internet companies have found ways to track and record our usage habits, why should the mobile sector be any different?