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Carrier IQ's own marketing claims undercut its defense

Company's marketing info suggests tools can do more than diagnose operational issues

December 2, 2011 12:39 PM ET

Computerworld - An increasingly besieged Carrier IQ (CIQ) yesterday insisted that its software is designed only to help wireless carriers diagnose operational problems on networks and mobile devices. But its own marketing material for one of the products raises doubts about that claim.

The IQ Insight Experience Manager is one in a suite of five similar products sold by CIQ. An online datasheet describes it as customer experience profiling software that gives carriers detailed views of how consumers interact with their phones at "any level of granularity from the entire population, to comparative groups, down to individual users, all at the touch of a button."

The datasheet explains how the software can give carriers a "precise view" of customer interaction -- even when the phone is not communicating with the network.

Carrier IQ marketing material
A portion of the marketing material for Carrier IQ's Insight Experience Manager.

Users of Carrier IQ's Insight Experience Manager can capture a "vast array" of data including screen transitions, button presses and service interactions, according to the material. Carriers can "task" phones dynamically over the air to optimize data selection. That data can be updated in real-time and aggregated in the company's Mobile Service Intelligence Platform.

In the datasheet, CIQ describes Insight Experience Manager as revenue-boosting technology that carriers can use to "view application and device feature usage, such as camera, music, messaging, browser and TV." It also describes how the product can help carriers identify how users respond to mobile advertising.

That description appears to be at odds with the company's depictions of its products after security researcher Trevor Eckhart published a report disclosing how Carrier IQ's software could be used by carriers and device makers to conduct surreptitious and highly intrusive tracking of Android and other smartphone users.

Eckhart described the software as a hard-to-detect -- and equally hard-to-remove -- rootkit that could be used by carriers and phone makers to collect almost any kind of data from a mobile phone without the user's knowledge. Eckhart said his research showed that Carrier IQ's software was often enabled to run by default on several mobile devices, including those from Samsung, HTC, RIM and others.

After his report was published, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile confirmed their use of the software but insisted it was only to improve wireless network and device performance.

On Thursday, Carrier IQ released an updated version of a statement it had made earlier. That statement described CIQ software as something that can be used to "measure and summarize" device performance to help carriers deliver better service.

Top mobile phone providers have been revealed as using software from Carrier IQ that can gather and track personal data from a user's smartphone. Do you think carriers and smartphone makers used Carrier IQ to track users?



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