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AT&T, Sprint confirm use of Carrier IQ software on handsets

December 1, 2011 01:40 PM ET

Carrier IQ maintains that its software does not do all of the things claimed by Eckhart. In a statement posted on its website Nov. 23 (.pdf format), the company claimed that its software does not record keystrokes, provide tracking tools, inspect the content on a phone or provide any real-time data reporting to its customers.

"Our software is designed to help mobile network providers diagnose critical issues that lead to problems such as dropped calls and battery drain," the statement said. The company also its software is installed on more than 150 million devices worldwide.

Carrier IQ initially threatened to sue Eckhart for publishing the research and tried to force him to withdraw his findings. The company quickly withdrew the threat and its CEO personally apologized to Eckhart after the privacy rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation rallied behind Eckhart and said the company's threats were baseless and a violation of the researcher's right to free speech.

After Eckhart's video was posted, an iPhone hacker known as chpwn posted a blog note saying that Carrier IQ is present on the iPhone "up through and including iOS 5."

"However, it does appear to be disabled along with diagnostics enabled on iOS 5; older versions may send back information in more cases," the blog post said. Unlike the other devices, iPhone users can disable Carrier IQ relatively easily by turning off the "Diagnostics and Usage" function in Settings, he said.

AT&T and Sprint, two of the largest U.S. wireless carriers, confirmed that its mobile handsets use the software but only for legitimate service and quality-related purposes.

Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations at AT&T, however, declined to say whether Carrier IQ is present in all AT&T handsets, what notice users have of its presence and whether users have the ability to turn off the software if they choose.

In an emailed statement, Siegel said that AT&T's use of Carrier IQ software is in line with the company's privacy policies. "We're really not going to offer more detail than what's in the statement," he said.

Sprint, meanwhile, offered a more detailed explanation of its use of the software. Spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge-Walsh said Sprint uses Carrier IQ's data to understand device performance issues and to identify problems sooner.

"We collect enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to address any connection problems, but we do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool," she said via email.

"The information collected is not sold and we don't provide a direct feed of this data to anyone outside of Sprint." She added that Sprint's privacy policy makes it clear that the company collects device information, including how it is being used.

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