Fullscreen User Comments
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LInkedIn Share on GooglePlus






Controversial spyware company Carrier IQ bites the dust but Ma Bell picks up its guttering torch


via Flickr © r.nial.bradshaw (CC BY 2.0)

  • AT&T buys part of CIQ and takes on some of its employees.
  • Will use CIQ software "solely to improve the customer’s network and wireless service experience."
  • Remains of Carrier IQ curls up and blows away on the winds of history.

Remember Carrier IQ, the controversial and provider to the network operator cognoscenti of what it liked, coyly, to refer to as "phone support software" for mobile handsets? It came pre-installed and was hidden away on more than 150 million mobile devices before it was discovered that what it actually did (in secret) was to monitor and log keystrokes input by network subscribers. Well, AT&T has just bought part of the now defunct company and is employing some of its erstwhile staff.

Carrier IQ's original software was data-logging spyware - pure and simple - and when its insidious and covert purpose was revealed, in 2011, the company not only denied it but also sought to muzzle those who discovered its deceitful practices by threatening legal action over what it called 'false allegations', which were, in fact, no such thing. That was the cue that triggered a huge storm of protest in which TelecomTV fully played its part (of which more later).

Now, the tiny and tattered rump of what was left of the enterprise after the scandal ran its inevitable course has been bought by AT&T for an undisclosed amount and the original company has finally gone the way of the much -loved Norwegian Blue parrot. It is no more. It has ceased to be. "It has run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible." And how the world mourns its passing.

AT&T became a Carrier IQ customer several years ago and, at the time said it would use CIQ software to "troubleshoot the quality of wireless for subscribers." Now, in another short announcement AT&T confirmed, "We have acquired the rights to Carrier IQ's software, and some CIQ employees have moved to AT&T."

That "some" can't be that many; Carrier IQ  was on its beam-ends and had less than a dozen people working for it at the time it was bought. AT&T has so far refused to disclose what it has paid for Carrier IQ nor will it reveal details of any licensing deals that go along with the purchase. All it will add is, “We use CIQ software solely to improve the customer’s network and wireless service experience. This is in line with our Privacy Policy and provides a great benefit to users of our network.”

Deny everything and shoot the messenger!

It was on November 12, 2011 that mobile technology geek and researcher,Trevor Eckhart posted his discovery that that Carrier IQ software was logging and recording subscriber information without either informing them of what it was doing or offering them the chance to opt-out of a 'service' that they didn't know existed in the first place.

Four days later Mr. Eckhart duly got a 'cease and desist' letter in which he was accused of 'copyright infringement' because he had posted Carrier IQ training documentation on his website. He was also accused of making 'false allegations'. However, rather than backing down Trevor Eckhart continued to reveal more about Carrier IQ's shady practices and quickly garnered support from the US rights advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) - among others.

One week later Carrier IQ rescinded its threats, issued a grovelling apology and offered to work and co-operate with the EFF whilst continuing to deny that its software was secretly logging the keystrokes made by the users of mobile handsets.

Five days after that Mr. Eckhart put up on Youtube a video showing, unequivocally and conclusively, instance after instance of Carrier IQ software in the act of logging, in plain text, a wide variety of keystrokes, all unbeknownst to the users who were actually pressing their phone's buttons. The video showed that Carrier IQ's software processing keystrokes, browser data, the content of text messages as well as passwords. It was also logging where people had been, when and how long for.

Carrier IQ contended that there was no evidence to suggest than the data taken covertly from individual subscribers was process, manipulated and either used or passed on to other interested parties. But, to make matters worse, it was revealed that one senior Carrier IQ executive described the secretly obtained information as "a treasure trove". By now the cat was well and truly out of the bag and screaming like a banshee.

Next, on December 1, 2011, the Carrier IQ scandal duly alerted the US Senate and Senator Al Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law sent the CEO of the company a series of 11 questions in reference to the company's likely violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, including the federal wiretap statute, the pen register statute, the Stored Communications Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Collapse of not-so-stout party

Thereafter came a welter of leaked information on the companies that were using Carrier IQ software in their networks and this was swiftly followed by a there followed by a veritable avalanche of lawsuits alleging privacy violations and poor security. Amongst the official bodies filing suit were the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Carrier IQ was, obviously, on a hiding to nothing in the face of such opposition and eventually had to accede to the removal of its questionable software from handsets via a security patch. Amongst those companies known to have been Carrier IQ customers were AT&T, Ericsson, IBM, Nielsen, Teradata and T-Mobile.

Class action lawsuits were also filed against six handset manufacturers that installed CIQ software on their handsets: HTC, Huawei Devices, Samsung, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility and Pantech Wireless. At one time Apple too was a Carrier IQ customer, but had stopped installing the spyware before the scandal broke.

The mills of the law can grind slowly in the US and the class actions against Carrier IQ and its co-defendants seem to have been settled in June 2015. However, we don't know that for sure as the US District Court in San Francisco where the cases were heard, only last month announced terms of the settlements are to be made public this very month, January 2016.

AT&T won't comment on how, where and when its negotiations to buy a part of Carrier IQ took place but it seems evident that those talks and attendant due diligence matters may well have been part of the reason why the court has delayed publishing details of the class action settlements for eight months. As AT&T has cherry-picked the assets it wanted and did not buy Carrier IQ in its entirety it seems obvious that Ma Bell will not be liable for any outstanding litigation or settlements found or yet to be found against the now defunct CIQ.

And, finally, a blast from the past, in living colour!!

In February 2012, TelecomTV, actually in association with Carrier IQ but without its participation, filmed a panel discussion called 'The Data Dilemma'. It addressed the question: "Do operators collect user data for the benefit of their customer or for their own commercial and financial betterment?" Panel members were Mike Short, Vice President, Telefónica Europe; Dean Bubley, Founder, Disruptive Analysis; Charlotte Patrick, Principal Analyst, Gartner; and, yours truly Martyn Warwick as moderator. Take a look back at a time when we and the world were younger...

WATCH - Second Look: Controversial spyware company Carrier IQ kicks off privacy discussion on TelecomTV

Join The Discussion

x By using this website you are consenting to the use of cookies. More information is available in our cookie policy. OK