Carrier IQ, HTC, Samsung hit with class-action lawsuits

Meanwhile, Carrier IQ offers more details about what its software does

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Carrier IQ and several of the carriers that have admitted using the technology, including AT&T and Sprint, insist that the technology is nothing more than a useful diagnostic tool for collecting certain network and device data for service and quality assurance purposes.

Eckhart, however, showed how the software can also be used to collect virtually any other metric from a user's mobile device. In an 18-minute YouTube video, he demonstrated how the software can be hard to detect, harder to remove and can be used to capture a lot of data -- including the keystrokes he made on his handset. In his research, Eckhart said that phone carriers could program the software to send user data whenever certain triggers or actions were completed.

Carrier IQ has consistently downplayed the research and has insisted Eckhart's claims misrepresent the true capabilities of its software. Even though its own marketing materials appear to undercut its claims , since the controversy broke Carrier IQ has described its software as doing little more than diagnosing operational network and device issues.

In a email today, Carrier IQ once again reiterated that its software does not log or understand keystrokes.

"It is only looking for numeric sequences that trigger a diagnostic cue within the software. If that cue requires communication with the carrier then the diagnostics are transmitted," the company said.

Carrier IQ's software knows what content has been accessed but not the nature of it. For example, the software will know the URL of a website that has been visited but not the content of the site, the company said.

The company downplayed a query by Computerworld about the claimed ability of the software to report collected data back to operators in real time. "The software has the ability to report real time but it isn't used that way,"

The company said the timing of the reporting function was a decision left to the carriers. Typically, Carrier IQ's software is used to report on a pre-determined daily or weekly schedule, the company said.

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?

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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