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Sen. Al Franken 'demands' answers on Carrier IQ's alleged spyware

Franken calls on Carrier IQ to explain its application

By , Network World
December 01, 2011 03:51 PM ET
Al Franken

Network World - Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is demanding that Carrier IQ explain whether its smartphone application is spying on users.

The text of the letter was revealed in a press release from the office of Franken, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. The release is headlined: "Sen. Franken Demands Answers from Company Accused of Secretly Logging Location and Private Information of Millions of Smartphone Users."

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Franken's letter was addressed to Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart, who joined the company just three months ago. Franken asked for answers to 11 questions by Dec. 14.

The company's software is installed on smartphones, where it collects a range of data about the phone's operation on the network and the user experience. That data is sent to a set of server applications for processing and analysis, and the results are used by carriers to improve service.

Among carriers, AT&T and Sprint have confirmed they use the Carrier IQ software. Handset makers HTC and Samsung say the client code is included in their handsets, at the insistence of carrier customers. Others, including Verizon Wireless, Research in Motion and Nokia say they don't use Carrier IQ.

Exactly what data is collected and sent is in dispute. [See "Mobile privacy debate reignites over hidden smartphone app"]

In his press release, Franken declared, "Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information. The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling. This news underscores the need for Congress to act swiftly to protect the location information and private, sensitive information of consumers. But right now, Carrier IQ has a lot of questions to answer."

The "revelation" to which Franken refers is a pair of recent blogposts and a YouTube video by a Connecticut systems administrator, Trevor Eckhart. He, and an array of bloggers, hackers and pundits who have accepted his analysis, allege that Carrier IQ can, and is, collecting a range of detailed personal information, including the text of SMS messages, and even individual keypad and keyboard touches.

But others are saying Eckhart actually has not yet shown that Carrier IQ is collecting this information on the phone, or transmitting it. "At no point does he enter a debugger and look inside the Carrier IQ application, and at no point does he run a network sniffer and look at what data is being transmitted to Carrier IQ," says John Graham-Cumming, programmer, author, and VP of engineering at software vendor Causata, in a post on his personal blog. "And I don't understand why. It would be a huge story if millions of smartphones worldwide were secretly sending the content of text messages to a US-based company. But that's not the story here because the 'security researcher' does not appear to have tried to find out."

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