Carrier IQ Faces Lawsuits, Lawmaker Seeks FTC Probe

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Carrier IQ’s woes continue to multiply.

    The Mountain View, Calif., startup now faces four lawsuits over allegations that its cellphone software violates the privacy of mobile users. A congressman has also asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission today to investigate those charges.

    The developments aren’t terribly surprising given the media firestorm around Carrier IQ, which programmer Trevor Eckhart alleges records keystrokes from mobile phones and sends all sorts of personal information off the phone. Carrier IQ denies that and says limited data is gathered for diagnostic purposes only. (CNET has a FAQ with more detailed information about exactly what Carrier IQ is doing to your mobile device.)

    A lawsuit filed today in federal court in San Jose, Calif., alleges that Carrier IQ “is involved in installing spyware on mobile phones and using that hidden software to siphon off private consumer data without consumer consent,” attorney Ira Rothken told CNET. The suit accuses Carrier IQ of violating various federal and state laws, including the California Anti-Spyware Statute and the right to privacy provision of the California Constitution.

    A separate suit filed in that court yesterday against Carrier IQ and phone makers HTC and Samsung also alleges violations of the Federal Wiretap Act and California’s Unfair Business Practice Act. “The lawsuit alleges that, in reality, the program does record keystrokes and the content of messages, and could transmit the information to third parties, possibly including information sent to secure websites using HTTPS security protocols used in e-commerce and other security-sensitive sites such as banking,” according to a statement plaintiff attorney Steve W. Berman released today.

    Lawsuits also were filed in Chicago and St. Louis yesterday against Carrier IQ, HTC and Samsung for alleged violation of the Federal Wiretap Act, according to Paid Content. The law forbids the interception of “oral, wire or electronic communications.” Penalties are $100 per day per violation.

    “The company has not seen or been served on any lawsuit, so we cannot comment on the allegations at this time,” Carrier IQ said in a statement today. “Carrier IQ is aware of various commentators alleging Carrier IQ has violated wiretap laws and we vigorously disagree

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    with these assertions.”

    Meanwhile, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) asked the FTC to investigate the Carrier IQ situation. “This software raises a number of privacy concerns for Android, Blackberry, and Nokia users,” Markey wrote in a letter to the commission. “Consumers neither have knowledge of this data collection, nor what Carrier IQ intends to do with this information. As a co-Chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, I am concerned that this practice violates the privacy rights of consumers.”

    The data regulator in Germany has sent a letter to Apple requesting further information, according to the Paid Content report. Apple said yesterday that it stopped using Carrier IQ before releasing iOS 5 last month and will remove it entirely from its products in a future software update.

    The Consumer Watchdog activist group asked the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the “Spyphone Scandal.” “The probe should extend beyond the software developer, Carrier IQ, and include operating systems developers like Google and Apple as well as carriers and device manufacturers, the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group said.

    Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, sent a letter to Carrier IQ yesterday asking it to answer questions about the data it gathers by December 14.

    The lawsuits do not name the carriers, despite the fact that Carrier IQ says it is merely doing their bidding. The carriers decide what types of data to collect, how much and when, Andrew Coward, vice president of marketing at Carrier IQ, told CNET. The carriers ask the device manufacturers to pre-load the software on their phones.

    So far, Verizon says it does not use Carrier IQ, while Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile say they use it to improve network performance.

    “T-Mobile utilizes the Carrier IQ diagnostic tool to troubleshoot device and network performance with the goal of enhancing network reliability and our customers’ experience,” the carrier said in a statement sent to CNET today. “T-Mobile does not use this diagnostic tool to obtain the content of text, email or voice messages, or the specific destinations of a customers’ internet activity, nor is the tool used for marketing purposes.”

    Nokia and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion say they do not pre-install Carrier IQ on their phones, while HTC, Samsung and Motorola say they pre-install it at the carrier’s request. Google, meanwhile, says it does not use it on Nexus devices.

    Carrier IQ is getting vilified for making a “rootkit keylogger” while carriers are the ones in control of the data, which is collected without notice to or permission from users.

    Updated 2:12 p.m. PT with fourth lawsuit filed.

    Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service, and the Associated Press.

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