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Sprint says 26M handsets have Carrier IQ; AT&T claims 900K

Both companies insist that the software is used only for diagnostic info

December 16, 2011 07:09 AM ET

Computerworld - Documents filed in response to a U.S. lawmaker's request show that Sprint is by far the biggest user of Carrier IQ's software, with more than 26 million handsets featuring the controversial mobile tracking tool.

AT&T, another major wireless carrier , said it has integrated the software into about 900,000 handsets, although it is collecting data only from about 575,000 of them.

Details about the carriers' use of Carrier IQ software were included in letters filed with U.S. Sen. Al Franken's (D-Minn.) office Thursday. Franken earlier this month had sent letters to AT&T, Sprint and several other companies demanding details about their use of Carrier IQ's software.

The letter was prompted by security researcher Trevor Eckhart's disclosure last month that Carrier IQ software could be used to conduct surreptitious and highly intrusive tracking of mobile phone users.

Franken had asked the carriers for such details as how many devices had the software installed, how long they had been using the software, what they were using it for and what data was being collected with it.

On Thursday, Franken issued a statement saying that despite the clarifications, he was still "very troubled by what's going on."

"People have a fundamental right to control their private information. After reading the companies' responses, I'm still concerned that this right is not being respected," Franken said. He added that average users had no way of knowing if the software was running on their devices, what information was being captured and where it being sent. "That's a problem, he said.

In its response, Sprint noted that it has been using Carrier IQ software since 2006 but insisted that the only information it collects and uses is related to network and device performance.

"Sprint has not used Carrier IQ diagnostics to profile customer behavior, serve targeted advertising, or for any purpose not specifically related to certifying that a device is able to operate on Sprint's network or otherwise to improve network operations and customer experiences," Vonya McCann, the company's senior vice president of government affairs, said in the letter.

McCann noted that though the software was installed on 26 million devices, at any particular time only about 5% of those devices, or about 1.3 million phones, are actually tasked to collect information. Of that number, about 30,000 are queried to respond to specific requests from Sprint personnel.

McCann categorically denied that Sprint collects or ever had collected the contents of emails and text messages or has read the contents of users' search queries using Carrier IQ software.

Timothy McKone, AT&T's executive vice president of federal relations, expressed similar sentiments in that company's response to Franken's letter.

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