updated 01:40 pm EST, Sat December 3, 2011
Carrier IQ gets technical but skips key issue
Carrier IQ marketing VP Andrew Coward in an interview late Friday went into much more detail on its smartphone monitoring process. He likened what was happening for The Register to a fishing boat looking only for bigger fish, where Carrier IQ's tracking was only keeping information that was directly relevant to the call and data checks. It did see the stream of messages and numbers, but it was only looking for specific one-time codes for sending troubleshooting information.
The design was inherently made in a way that the background tool couldn't scrape private information short of a program rewrite, the VP said. It could track the number of messages that went out, but not their contents. Carrier IQ runs in RAM and so doesn't have a permanent copy stored locally, regardless of the information.
Carriers' collection varied wildly in frequency but was limited. Some only focused on dropped calls once a week, while others could detect app launches daily. Most of the typical 200KB upload was cellular radio information that could pinpoint the connection circumstances behind a call drop.
While potentially defusing government investigations, the interview has left out questions of public awareness and consent. Android users aren't known to be directly told that Carrier IQ is running or to have the option of turning it off. So far, only iPhone users have had it off by default with the option of turning it off later; it's now inactive on iOS devices.
The interview also didn't explain the backing away by some phone makers and carriers. Some may just want to avoid the controversy, although HTC's explicit statement that it not only isn't the direct customer for Carrier IQ but was hoping to scrub the software suggests a discomfort with the tracking process.