Fans of dystopian fiction are letting their imaginations run wild after a developer released a video of a hidden, keystroke-recording app called IQ Agent by Carrier IQ that is running on an estimated 150 million smartphones worldwide in order to learn information about the behavior of their users.
While Carrier IQ isn’t likely to go Skynet on us, this video is fairly alarming. It’s yet another log on the anti-privacy bonfire that has been ablaze in recent months with the antics of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and many others. Who is going to be the John Connor that will end all of this?
First of all, I call dibs. But I’m going to wait until I see a T-1000 in real life. Second, let’s not freak out… yet.
A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for any “manuals, documents or other written guidance used to access or analyze data gathered by programs developed or deployed by Carrier IQ,” from the FBI by a blogger at MuckRock.com was denied on the grounds that revealing that information would interfere with a law enforcement case.
The YouTube video that started it all:
This doesn’t necessarily mean the FBI is using Carrier IQ data to track your every move. The FBI could actually have denied the FOIA request because they are building a case against Carrier IQ. We’ll all just have to wait and see where this goes. We do know the truth will eventually become clear as there have already been class-action lawsuits filed against Carrier IQ and the providers who use the app to collect user data (Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T).
The Carrier IQ discovery is certainly disturbing. The developer says that the data is only being used as a diagnostic tool to tweak performance and give to carriers; the content is not being stored. Two examples would be: 1) the software would record the date and phone number of a person you are texting, but will not record the message you send and 2) it will record what website you visit, but it will not record the actual content of the page. This is enough to make many people squeamish about the privacy of their data and usage.
The problem with Carrier IQ saying it’s not recording content is that the video above clearly shows every keystroke being recorded into a simple text file. Carrier IQ says that the output in that video is from pre-release debugging software that should have never made it onto a consumer device.
Carrier IQ’s response:
Now it’s time to pick your poison, either this company is secretly recording everything you do and giving it to your phone provider or they can’t keep track of what software is being pre-installed on phones without user consent.
Carrier IQ believes this is all a mistake and a misunderstanding. They say their software is beneficial to users because it lets phone carriers know if there are performance problems that need to be fixed. In an effort to be more transparent, they have released a 19 page document explaining what the IQ Agent is, how it works, and what it is used for.
Is Carrier IQ on your mobile phone? Are you going to try to remove it?