An Android developer recently discovered an application called Carrier IQ built into most smartphones that doesn’t just track your location; it secretly records your keystrokes, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The reason for this invasive Android app seems reasonable enough at face value. Even though it’s on most Android, BlackBerry and Nokia devices, most users would never know that Carrier IQ is running in the background, and that’s the point. Described on the company’s website as software to gain “unprecedented insight into their customers’ mobile experience,” Carrier IQ is ostensibly supposed to help mobile carriers and device manufacturers gather data in order to improve their products.
Tons of applications do this, however, Carrier IQ does not give you the option to cancel the monitoring, and unless you were code-savvy and looking for it, you’d never know it was there.
Reportedly, CarrierIQ collects lots data, including keystrokes, even logging contents of text messages. CarrierIQ recently denied that they recorded keystrokes.
Like many things in life, there are a couple of different ways to think about smartphone tracking. One way approaches privacy from a forward-thinking, technology-trusting, progressive perspective. GPS-equipped smartphones are incredibly powerful tools that enables us to do all kinds of amazing things, thanks to the perpetual stream of data from the Internet. However, that stream runs both ways, and sometimes, the folks that build and maintain the network sometimes need to monitor your data in order to improve the technology. Who wouldn’t want better service?
Another school of thought is that tracking is creepy. It makes people nervous that the government, corporations or the system is closing in on them and stealing their freedom. Of course, not everybody feels so strongly about privacy, but as long as you can opt out, it’s fine. Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer spoke out about a program at some malls in Virginia and Southern California that were anonymously tracking shoppers’ movements by tracking their cell phone signals, and the only way to opt out was by not going to the mall. Schumer did not approve. “Personal cell phones are just that — personal,” the New York senator said in a statement. “If retailers want to tap into your phone to see what your shopping patterns are, they can ask you for your permission to do so.”
The CarrierIQ software is not dissimilar to the shopper tracking program. In fact, it’s arguably worse since it follows you everywhere. In the age of social media, everybody is becoming increasingly aware of and often angry about the amount of private data companies are scooping up with or without their consent.
This week, the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook came to an agreement that the social network must make all of their new programs opt-in so as not to break the law by violating users’ privacy. Even Mark Zuckerberg admitted in a sincere-sounding blog post that his company had “made a bunch of mistakes” on the privacy front in the past. He went on to detail how “offering people control over the information they share online” was a top priority.
Facebook is also reportedly building its own mobile phone platform.
Does this new information upset you, or is it a non-issue for you?