In what is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, last week saw some serious drama play itself out between a mobile tracking company, Carrier IQ, and a security researcher, Trevor Eckhart. The software is used by a number of mobile carriers on a number of mobile phones to track information that the company says help the manufacturers and carriers refine their products. The bad thing is that most consumers have no idea what it is – and because it is tremendously hard to remove the program, its purposes and “spying” or tracking ability makes it that much scarier. It truly poses the question of whether consumers should know what they are getting into with technology or not. What really stinks is when the consumer is not given the choice to opt-out.
Added to the elevated concerns about privacy is the questionable tactics Carrier IQ took after Eckhart originally posted his findings under the name TrevE. He was served with a Cease and Desist order from Carrier IQ and the threat of a lawsuit. Perhaps they could have learned from Forever21’s misfortunes of legal responses and the negative implications they caused in the social stratosphere.
Just using YouTube as non-scientific barometer is quite telling about how big of a hit Carrier IQ (and possibly the carriers and manufacturers) is taking. The video Eckart posted has received over 1.5 million views, but anything the company has posted in response has earned views that are miniscule in comparison. Even the follow-up videos by other outlets announcing both the subsequent cease and desist and the ultimate apology garnered more views than the company’s response. Adding insult to injury, an edited mashup of the company’s response video is getting up there in views.
Now, there is buzz about this around the world and the US government has gotten involved – with Senator Al Franken calling for the same answers the general public is asking for.Whether or not there is anything malicious or unethical in the program and its findings, the fact that the information is being tracked even in relatively unconnected phones and the difficulties in removing the program or just opting out is quite disturbing. Working in the technology business, Carrier IQ should have been ahead of the curve both on the PR side as well as in the option to opt-out. To have a force quit button that does nothing is unacceptable.
Quite honestly, I had seen the App listed in my phone as HTC IQAgent when I was trying to figure out why my phone is saying it’s always at capacity. Perhaps I stupidly trusted it because it had the name HTC in front of it. The whole event causes me to trust HTC even less. I wish I knew what HTC programs were truly for my benefit and which were not. Perhaps it is time to switch to another model and even another carrier. If HTC really wanted to see what issues I was having, they could contact me and allow me to tell them what the problem is. At this point, I don’t believe that the program is just there to help fix issues automatically without bothering us as the stickiness, battery and storage issues I have been having for months still occur.
I do not plan to drop my phone in water as some YouTube vides suggest, but I definitely have more questions that I want answered and Eckhart’s 4 questions at the end of his video really only touch the surface. The time for arrogance by technologists and companies when it comes to privacy and tracking has got to be curbed – or those scary things we saw in movies and wrote them off as science fiction will become all too real…