Is Your Cellphone Spying on You?

January 3rd, 2012

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The mobile phone world was rocked when Trevor Eckhart, a systems administrator from Connecticut, posted a 17-minute video on YouTube in November 2011 showcasing how a hidden program installed on millions of smartphones (Androids, as well as iPhones on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) is apparently logging EVERY SINGLE keystroke you make (and every website you visit, every person you call or text, and more).

The information is then transmitted back to Carrier IQ, the “Mobile Service Intelligence” company that created it. According to the company’s website:

Carrier IQ is the leading provider of Mobile Service Intelligence Solutions to the Wireless Industry. As the only embedded analytics company to support millions of devices simultaneously, we give Wireless Carriers and Handset Manufacturers unprecedented insight into their customer’s mobile experience.

The YouTube video quickly went viral, garnering over 1 million hits in less than a week and resulting in a strong backlash against Carrier IQ because, as you might expect, not everyone wants their wireless carrier to have “unprecedented insight” into their mobile experience without their permission. And in a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, Google (the target of many anti-privacy accusations itself) referred to the software as a “key logger,” i.e. spyware.

Numerous class-action lawsuits have already been filed, and the company’s actions are currently being questioned by members of Congress. Carrier IQ has denied that it records or uses individual user’s information, claiming to focus instead on aggregate “anonymized” data. Though the extent to which this is true remains to be seen, this whole debacle has ignited a national debate, and has highlighted how our privacy can be violated by the technology on which we depend.

Read more about Privacy & Security.

UPDATE 1/27/16: Carrier, which has since been acquired by AT&T, agreed to pay $9 million to settle the 2011 class-action lawsuit. However, class members, who total more than 79 million, may not receive any money at all depending on how many submit claims. The money may instead go to privacy advocacy organizations. The attorneys who represented the class will receive $2.25 million.

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When a video (or song, or photo, etc.) “goes viral,” it becomes very popular very quickly. It gets shared from one person to their group of friends, from each of those friends to even more people, and so on, just like a virus.

Software installed on your computer without your consent to monitor or control your computer use.

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