Carrier IQ: We Only Unintentionally Collected Smartphone Users’ Text Messages

Carrier IQ: We Only Unintentionally Collected Smartphone Users’ Text Messages

Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart and vice president of marketing Andrew Coward have revealed in an interview that despite the company’s assurance that no personal data is recorded by its software, a “bug” did unintentionally collect users’ text messages. What it does collect intentionally — particularly for the Federal Bureau of Investigation — is yet to be clarified, with the FBI refusing to disclose this information.

Michael Morisy requested disclosure from the FBI on December 1 on how it uses the information obtained by Carrier IQ, but it wasn’t willing to provide an answer. The Bureau’s David Hardy replied to Morisy’s request with:

The material you requested is located in an investigative file which is exempt from disclosure. I have determined that the records responsive to your request are law enforcement records; that there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records.

The FBI’s decision to keep this information secretive only fuels the belief that it actively uses Carrier IQ data to monitor our calls and texts. And despite assurance from Carrier IQ that claims text messages are not collected, it seems that’s not entirely true.

In an interview with All Things D, Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart and vice president of marketing Andrew Coward revealed that in fact, a “bug” meant that the service does unintentionally record text messages, but only if you receive them while you’re on the phone:

As we went and did a deep dive into our technology to prove to consumers that there is nothing untoward in it, we found a bug. We found that if an SMS was sent simultaneously while a user is on the phone, the SMS would be captured by our software. Obviously, this is something that doesn’t happen very often, but we discovered that it could happen, and we caught it. Now, that information was never used. It wasn’t decoded. It sat on a server in encoded format, and no one could really get to it.

Carrier IQ doesn’t specify which devices were affected by the bug, but it would appear that all of them are. Apple has confirmed the software is present within iOS 5, the company’s latest iOS operating system, but thankfully for those of us who use iPhones, it says that it will remove it in a future software update.

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  • Sean Smith

    Edit: Nevermind. I was going to call BS on their “bug” claim since I assumed they were parsing the files where text messages get saved. Their claim that it only recorded them when they arrived if the user was using the phone, however, shows just how deeply this garbage is hooked into the OS and its user interface.

  • FriarNurgle

    Can we just start calling Carrier IQ by it’s true name, Big Brother?

  • cranstone

    Complete nonsense. They knew the second the messages started showing up. At that immediate point in time they should have notified the authorities. 

  • Mojo66

    The problem with all of this is that there is no privacy anymore in the US since 9/11. For the sake of all the wars that the US is fighting, the one against terrorism in particular, data collection is politically sanctioned and who can blame private companies to do the same as the goverment.  The best example, of course, being Facebook. 
    And ironically, because the US is obviously the center of the whole universe, the EU receives political pressure from the US despite the fact that we *do* have privacy laws in place.

  • Bitter Witch

    Effing FBI.  I don’t want them to know I torrent everything.

  • Honyant

    It is a rebranded Air America. ;-)

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  • jedivulcan

    That excuse is laughable. It’s like saying a directional microphone wasn’t meant to capture a conversation 20 feet away.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

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