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Carrier IQ: What We Know So Far

Smartphone monitor company details in a report every data point that it can collect, and says it shared no data with law enforcement agencies.

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Smartphone monitoring software vendor Carrier IQ has released more details about how its software is used to track smartphone-related data. Furthermore, it has denied that it supplies any of that data to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

"Carrier IQ's data is not designed for law enforcement agencies and to our knowledge has never been used by law enforcement agencies. Carrier IQ [has] no rights to the data gathered and [has] not passed data to third parties," said Carrier IQ in a statement. "Should a law enforcement agency request data from us, we would refer them to the network operators. To date and to our knowledge we have received no such requests."

Carrier IQ's statement was issued after Michael Morisy of MuckRock news detailed a Freedom of Information Act request he'd made to the FBI on December 1, requesting "manuals, documents, or other written guidance used to access or analyze data gathered by programs developed or deployed by Carrier IQ."

The FBI's response arrived December 7, with the bureau saying that "the material you requested is located in an investigative file which is exempt from disclosure" on the grounds that producing the information "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." As Morisy then said, the response could mean that the FBI uses data collected by Carrier IQ. Likewise, it could also mean that the bureau is investigating Carrier IQ itself. In light of Carrier IQ's statement, the latter seems to be the stronger possibility.

[ Carrier IQ-gate makes the mobile industry look like it has something to hide. Learn more about Carrier IQ: What Carriers, Device Makers Must Do Next. ]

Morisy had filed his Freedom of Information Act request after security researcher Trevor Eckhart in November began releasing detailed research into how he saw the Carrier IQ software operating. Given that the software hooked into the Android operating system at extremely deep levels, and had the potential to monitor individual keystrokes, encrypted Web pages, and GPS location, Eckhart asked Carrier IQ to fully detail what data it was collecting, and why.

In response, Carrier IQ initially sued Eckhart for alleged copyright violations involving its training materials. But after the Electronic Frontier Foundation intervened, it dropped the suit and issued an apology to Eckhart, who responded by releasing further research. At the same time, Carrier IQ executives began reaching out to media outlets, stating that the company only collects data that carriers tell it to collect.

But this open question--voiced not just by Eckhart but also other security researchers, and in the form of multiple class action lawsuits--remained: Exactly what was Carrier IQ's software doing, and why?

Carrier IQ's detailed response arrived Tuesday, in the form of a 19-page report, titled "Understanding Carrier IQ Technology," which includes responses to "critical allegations and questions," as well as a list of every potential datapoint that its software can capture. These datapoints include information relating to radio technologies, voice services, data transmission, application and battery performance, IP and IP services, as well as device stability and status.

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