Regarding Carrier IQ and customer insight mining

Regarding Carrier IQ and customer insight mining

Carrier IQ is software that manufacturers and/or carriers stealthily embed in mobile devices in order to collect everything from location to behavioral (usage) data. How much data they collect, and to what level of granularity, it's hard to tell, as is what they do with it both locally on the device and transmitted back to their servers.

It's in the news recently because it's been discovered on Android and iOS devices, but Carrier IQ, and stuff like it, have been used for years. Knowledge is power, after all, and the moment a company can do something that they think gives them tactical advantage, they likely will.

They might use it to try and detect crashes, loss of signal or packets, or other technical information that could help them make better products or services. They might use it to see which OS features you use most and least often, how you typically enter or exit apps and features, how many apps you download and how often, and for how long, you use them. They might sell this information to to partners and third party developers so they can improve and adjust their products, or learn about their competitors' users. (I explained how this works in more detail a while back in regards to Siri.)

They might anonymize it, aggregate it, and runs metrics or analytics off terabytes of the stuff. They might drill down to a single, known user, Person of Interest -- or Big Brother -- style. We don't know, and that's a big part of the problem. Lack of disclosure leads to uncertainty about the motives and that leads to feelings of violation.

Does that mean it's wrong to feel violated? Certainly not, but right now a lot of the attention is being focused on Carrier IQ and that's a lot like blaming a gun -- what you really want is the shooter. It's the carriers and the manufacturers who are implementing Carrier IQ.

And they're not alone. Think some game companies don't monitor your behavior while you're playing, figure out when you leave the game, then try to adjust levels so you keep playing longer? Think apps don't provide accounts and online services so that you get online and use them, and they can compile data based on your usage.

At the end of the day, they really don't care who you are, it's just collateral damage from figuring out how to take more of your money. That's customer insight and it's being done more and more often, in more and more sophisticated ways. Carrier IQ is just making headlines, but it's a much bigger, much more important issue than any one vendor.

You want the shooter, and you want to know why and at what they're shooting. And you want them to tell us up front what exactly it is they're packing onto our devices.

Sources: Android Central, chpwn

Disclosure: I worked for many years in cutting edge customer insight analytics

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Siri "pro-life bias" debunked

Next up →

Adorn your Christmas tree with these iPhone and iPad decorations

Reader comments

Regarding Carrier IQ and customer insight mining


I understand.
What concerns me is that items like pin numbers, critical system passwords and the like might be ending up stored on the phone or transmitted outside of the phone other than at my initiative.
If such can be implemented by the software involved, then that to me is a major security risks for many people and organizations.

Not only that.... MY PASSWORDS.
My passwords would be stored on these logs. They could check that whenever i enter https sites, the same phrases keep popping up. In turn, they have a chance to getting to my REAL private data. Private DATA that I access continually every day. Bank accounts/Paypal and other things that I honestly don't want anyone checking out.
There are many more implications to all this like big Sam having a super easy access to everything in your life as everything has been accessed/logged through there.

Carrier IQ distinguished itself by, when it was caught in the act of being a gun, trying to deny that it was a gun, and then by trying to intimidate the person who called it a gun by threats of litigation to force him to falsely claim that it wasn't a gun after all.

And so, Rene, are you saying this is OK and dismissing this as just another analytic tool in companies arsenals? And that we small folks, that continue to pour money into these behemoths are just collateral damage along the path of innovation?
This diatribe sounds more like an alibi for more cover up work than an attempt to inspire further investigation into intentional, global law breaking.

I heard IOS may not have Carrier IQ installed, is that true? Your above picture is Aaple diagnostic software which can be turned on and off by your choice, to my understanding Carrier IQ is deep system based within Android and some others. And TY Rene for the article...

The problem is that if the carrier iq servers are in the US, the government will get its hands on it. I expect a much more subdued house reaction on this issue than in Apple's fairly harmless GPS data caching "scandal".

For the less experienced iOS users, you can find this setting under "About" - "Diagnostics and Usage"

So do won't mind if I sneak over to your house and go through your unmentionables, read all your mail and rifle through your file cabinet?
Ya, didn't think so.

Nice one Rene, you are totally correct IMO. Although everything I read yesterday always mentioned Android only. I'm not banking that the same isn't happening with iOS, nor WP7 or BB either. But does anyone know if Carrier IQ is in iOS or is Apple running their own thing that is probably the same deal?

my co-worker's ex-wife made $275028 so far just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site...

Said like a true iSheep. Go ahead, let them tell you what you can and can't do on your device. Let them spy on you and just take it. Fool.

I have "Diagnostics and Usage" on my iPhone set to "Don't send" and have since the first time I booted it up. My problem is if that's just bait and switch and despite claiming to turn it off, it's really still transmitting the "usage info".

Some overseas carriers quickly claimed to not be using it, but what if it is proven that they really are. The dude with the video already proved it's running in Android and buried so deep, it can't be removed. If we set "Diagnostics and Usage" to "don't send", it shouldn't be sending anything. If it's still transmitting usage info, then privacy violations are indeed occurring on iPhones as well and US Carriers need to come out and either admit they are implementing it or not.

Some people are ok with being spied on. There's a name for them.
It isn't paranoia to not wish for anyone to have access to your personal information. We all have privacy rights, irregardless of how interesting your life is or what you do with your phone. The point isn't that someone created a tool to spy on Android users and they got found out. The point is to find out WHO among the carriers is using this tool to spy on your usage patterns and to either remove it or turn it off because NO ONE was consulted as to if they wanted it turned on or off and they are basically violating your privacy without YOUR PERMISSION. Wiretapping is illegal and I believe this would fall under the illegal wiretap laws, unless the use of Carrier iQ was instituted in the USA by the government to have a back door into everyone's cell phone. While that might sound paranoid, the fact is that the government has been chomping at the bits to have something like this since 9/11 and believe me, they'd do it in a second in the name of "National Security" if they had even the slightest probable cause for it. Bush instituted such a practice from land lines. Think the government wouldn't do it on cell phones if they could? How much you want to bet, the government doesn't even see this as a problem?

Wrong. I'm okay with it... and I've never used Android. I've had all five iPhones, and I'm on my ninth Mac since the 80s.
Sorry to disappoint you, but nobody gives a damn about Anton Frost's information.

Seriously, who cares? There has been a pervasive notion in this country that we have a "right" to privacy when no such right exists. What we have developed is an "expectation" of privacy, when none is guaranteed. It should also be noted that most of these so-called privacy violations are clearly spelled out for us in the contracts we sign. Just because the majority of us are too lazy to read them doesn't mean the companies are committing foul play. There is nothing physically compelling us to use their products and technology.
What we should be asking ourselves is, "who watches the watchers?" A society built on

No, these privacy violations are not clearly spelled out in the contracts. They are written in the most overbroad legalese possible to confound and confuse the customer.
Yes, we could all become Amish and eschew technology, but these carriers enjoy a preferred position because we license them to use public spectrum. I can't go out and start my own cellular company. I'm constrained to use one of the ones the government has empowered.
These carriers have lied about what this software does, and they continue to do so. Last night I was told by AT&T that HTC put this software on my phone and they knew nothing about it and transferred me to HTC, who then read me a prepared statement that claimed AT&T was at fault.
What we have developed is the "expectation" that we will be told the truth. Maybe we should just get over it, or maybe we should force these carriers to tell us the truth and then prosecute the liars?

You're right, there is no "intelligent design" cause nobody in their right mind would design a species with no talent other than being able to shove his head up his own rear. You're living proof that a fish and a monkey can indeed procreate and the offspring evolve into the useless, knuckle-dragging, cro-mag, who is a drain on his employer and society.

Wow. I've not seen so many straw men since the Wizard of Oz try outs. Can you possibly make any more assumptions without a single source or reference?
Also, please tell me where we have a constitutional right to privacy that these evil corporations are legally violating. They are breaking no laws.
And tell me, do you not pay your taxes, either? Because last I checked, the IRS collected a hell of a lot more personal information on every single US citizen than IQ could ever deam of. Where is your outrage at the government? And speaking of an Amish lifestyle, I'm assuming you complain about every bank ATM you pass, every grocery store you enter and every person who can see your face, license plate and the car you drive. All of these things collect information on you, take pictures of you and sell information about you on a daily basis. Yet, we've managed to survive as a society for decades under this ruthless totalitarian regime! It's astounding.
So yes, please, stand up for our assumed rights! Make the world safer from those who might actually profit from knowing how we use the tools they developed for and sold to us. Heaven forbid they actually conspire to give sell us even more things we may actually have a better interest in!

I also work in research and though I understand that people feel anxious about how this went down, tools like CIQ are not necessarily a bad thing. Before anybody gets worked up about me saying it is not a bad thing, Yes, I also believe companies should be much more transparent about using this and let users opt-in.
Because I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing, I find calling CIQ a "gun" the wrong selection. It loads the conversation in a negative way.