The dangers of Carrier IQ

| Staff Columnist

Recently, it was revealed that a proprietary software known as Carrier IQ was present within Google’s Android mobile operating system. Android software is used on many very popular phones across all major carriers. So just what is Carrier IQ? Simply put, Carrier IQ allows the cellular carrier to track the proprietary information specific to a mobile handset.

Among other things, it potentially allows the carrier, or anyone with the carrier’s access, to track the user’s location using GPS, an incredible violation of privacy. Competitors such as Apple’s iPhone and previous versions of its iOS operating system also contain some form of Carrier IQ software. Unlike the egregious Android variety, however, the most current iteration of the Apple iPhone operating system, iOS 5, appears to have removed it entirely. The version installed in popular phones (such as those produced by HTC) logs not only location and technical data, but also passwords, text messages and even pictures taken by the camera.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only person disturbed by this gigantic potential security breach. Aside from the fact that I do not want large corporations reading my private text messages or getting my personal passwords, large corporations have proven themselves very vulnerable to bad security breaches. In essence, the very fact that a corporation is storing a password that only needs to exist on a personal device is a gigantic personal security violation outside of the control of the consumer whose information is being stored.

Security experts and activists are rightfully outraged at this enormous violation of privacy and have recently sued HTC and Samsung, the two companies responsible for making the vast majority of such handsets. What makes the OS version included by these two corporations even more offensive is that it appears to be impossible to turn off or remove the Carrier IQ component from an unmodified handset. Even in the older Apple version, such tracking, which only stored technical information, could be disabled directly from the settings menu.

This entire fiasco is a reminder that large corporations may not have the users’ best interests at heart and are sometimes willing to abuse their products and even their large legal budgets in order to earn a profit. Cases such as that of Carrier IQ also serve as a teachable moment, demonstrating just the amount and range of information modern technology can retain about users.

We need much more stringent legislation governing just what information corporations are allowed to gather about their consumers without consent. Such legislation would not only protect the consumer’s information from the corporations themselves, but it would also protect against potential data leaks that might release personal information. In the present day and age, maintaining privacy is more difficult but also more important than ever, particularly because of the danger of identity theft. In order to protect us from this threat, the government must step in to create and enforce restrictions on corporations’ ability to violate the privacy of consumers.

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