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Smartphone Invader Tracks Your Every Move

Carrier IQ software, installed on more than 141 million mobile phones, tracks GPS location, websites visited, search queries, and all keys pressed.
Eckhart said the information being collected by Carrier IQ was even more expansive than what Sprint had shared in 2009. "We can see from the dashboard that GPS data can be viewed historically or in real time by date, time, whatever. That makes for a very efficient law enforcement portal, just like what's detailed being blatantly abused in Soghoian's article. It also relates to how Verizon is gathering info for their new ad tracking program," he said. "Things like exact keypress data being stored as well shows this. What use would what words I'm typing ever be to 'network performance'? Maybe words per minute would be useful, but it's not that--it's an exact record of what you are typing."

Verizon has publicly acknowledged that it uses Carrier IQ statistics, both for mobile usage information (device location, app and feature usage, and website addresses, which may include search string) as well as consumer information (use of Verizon products and services, as well as demographic information, such as gender, age, and dining preferences). It also offers customers a way to opt out of this usage.

Meanwhile, "Sprint is known to collect Carrier IQ data because users have the application running reporting to them, but have no privacy policy, retention policy, or public information on what they use the data for," said Eckhart.

But Sprint spokesman Jason Gertzen said via email that Sprint uses the information for diagnostic purposes. "Carrier IQ provides information that allows us to analyze our network performance and identify where we should be improving service. We also use the data to understand device performance so we can figure out when issues are occurring," he said. "The information collected is not sold and we don’t provide a direct feed of this data to anyone outside of Sprint."

Deactivating installed Carrier IQ software can be difficult, at least as implemented by many carriers. While Samsung Android devices offer a somewhat hidden Carrier IQ on/off switch, HTC Android devices offer no such feature. Accordingly, if you buy an ex-Sprint phone off of eBay and Carrier IQ software is installed, you're being tracked, said Eckhart. But Carrier IQ's Woods said that her company's software is set to disable data collection if the device's SIM card or mobile carrier changes.

How can you determine if the software is running on a device? "Logging TestApp scanner will detect it in the kernel--use 'Check Props' feature--as well as files used in the regular Loggers scan," said Eckhart. He's the developer behind Logging TestApp, which can also be used to reveal the Carrier IQ menus often hidden by carriers when they roll out the application.

If Carrier IQ is found and isn't wanted, deleting it can also be difficult. "The only way to remove Carrier IQ is with advanced skills. If you choose to void your warranty and unlock your bootloader you can (mostly) remove Carrier IQ," he said. "Logging TestApp can identify files used in logging and you can manually patch or use [the] Pro version to automatically remove [them]."

Android expert Tim Schofield has also released a YouTube video showing how to remove Carrier IQ from the Samsung Epic 4G running Android Gingerbread 2.3.5, but warned that it would require flashing the ROM. "What [Carrier IQ] does is log things you do and send it to Sprint, so it's like a spyware thing that you don't want on your phone," he said.