What's really going on with Carrier IQ on your phone

HTC's failure to disable the display of the debug statements constitutes a legitimate potential security threat to user information. These are a "risk to privacy," Rosenberg says, and HTC should mitigate that risk by disabling these debugging messages. But it's not a risk created by the CIQ software or the data it is able to collect.

In his blogpost, Rosenberg spells out what the deconstruction of the CIQ code reveals about how the application actually works, as revealed by the metrics enabled for his Samsung phone. It matches Bace's conclusions.

"Taking this information into account, all of the data that is potentially being collected supports Carrier IQ's claims that its data is used for diagnosing and fixing network, application, and hardware failures," Rosenberg concludes. "Every metric in the above table has potential benefits for improving the user experience on a cell phone network. If carriers want to improve coverage, they need to know when and where calls are dropped. If handset manufacturers want to improve battery life on phones, knowledge of which applications consume the most battery life is essential."

"CarrierIQ exists for a legitimate purpose - to help carriers and OEMs isolate and diagnose specific classes of problems that affect mobile service," Bace says. "The developers have taken great pains to minimize the impact their diagnostic functions have on the constrained resources present on the mobile devices. Furthermore, they have also taken great pains to put control of their software in the hands of their carrier customers, who have strong privacy policies and regulatory measures in place. They [CIQ] don't access end user information; neither do they store such data. I'm mystified as to why anyone believes they should merit such abuse."

Nonetheless, Rosenberg is critical of the way the Carrier IQ application has been implemented in the carrier-manufacturer relationship. End-users should be able to opt out of any sort of data collection; carriers should be clearer and plainer about what data is being collected from the phone, and why; and "there needs to be third-party oversight on what data is collected to prevent abuse."

Finally, he says, the "legality of gathering full URLs with query parameters and other data of this nature should be examined."

Rosenberg says he has shared with Eckhart about his own findings, based on running the Carrier IQ application through a disassembler. But so far, Eckhart has not posted anything new on his blog

And that points to another set of criticisms that can be levied.

"To fail to differentiate an after-market app from a system internal that is integral to the management of the network to which the device is connected is a major failing," Bace says of Eckhart's original analysis. "To propose, as he has in the meantime, that he can provide a means of removing the offending mechanism - without disrupting quality of service -to a general populace of non-technical users is simply beyond the pale."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "What's really going on with Carrier IQ on your phone" was originally published by Network World.

| 1 2 Page 6
ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon