On October 4th, I blogged about the logging services TrevE found on his HTC mobile phone. These services were tracking all activities on TrevE’s phone regardless of whether he, or any end user, had opted out or not.  Until recently, it was believed if you opted out, nothing would be collected. However, TrevE illustrated this was clearly not the case and logging was occurring regardless of privacy settings.

Unfortunately, the story takes a turn for the worse. TrevE was not happy with the answers he got from HTC back in October. Although HTC promised a fix, they still haven’t followed through. As TrevE continued to dig deeper, he discovered that HTC code relied heavily upon a little known CarrierIQ service.

CarrierIQ was discovered by a community that creates custom ROMs that run on rooted phones. As you customize this software, particular attention is paid to how the phone’s resources are used because excessive use of RAM or CPU drastically reduces battery life and slows the phone. Because CarrierIQ runs all the time, it became TrevE’s focus. Why was this service always active and why did HTC’s code rely so heavily upon it? Here is what TrevE found.

A week later, CarrierIQ served TrevE with a cease and desist letter and threatened to sue. TrevE solicited help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who quickly wrote a response to CarrierIQ. Acknowledging that their scare tactics were hollow, CarrierIQ quickly apologized to TrevE via a post on their company website. This post also claimed what their software supposedly does.

Believing CarrierIQ’s product explanation to be a lie, TrevE continued his research and substantiated our worst fears: Carrier IQ digs through your texts, your calls and even your encrypted Google searches.

Evidence indicates this software is not limited to HTC devices. A well known iPhone hacker named Chpwn tweeted that versions at least as recent as the iPhone OS 3.1.3 contain references of Carrier IQ. He later confirmed it exists in all versions of iOS including iOS 5. Apple has been quick to respond to this information and openly admitted they have CarrierIQ in iOS. Perhaps based on the latest firestorm, Apple stated they have plans to completely remove Carrier IQ in a future software update. Similarly, Dan Rosenberg confirms that CarrierIQ exists on his Samsung device.

At this time, it appears as though different phones are running different versions of CarrierIQ with different capabilities. The intent behind the software is to collect metrics to allow carriers to improve their service offering, but as with many technologies, they appear to have over-reached. According to Dan Rosenberg, his research indicates the following items are being tracked:

* Browser information: In some cases, this can track search terms and URLs, but does not record the contents of a page.

* Location data: Based on GPS and proximity to cell towers and wireless access points.

* Network and radio events: Basically tracking when the phone joins/leaves networks and turns 3G/4G/Wifi on and off.

* Hardware events: These are like battery levels, voltages, temperatures, etc.

* Keystrokes: This has been misreported. Keys can be tracked, but at least on Samsung devices, only keys pressed in the dialer can be tracked.

* Call Information: Initiation of calls, received calls and dropped calls.

* Application data: Which apps you run and when you run them.

* Text Messaging: Who the message is to, who the message is from and how long it is.  Does not track the message themselves.

If you run a rooted Android, be sure to get a Carrier IQ test app to see if your ROM has been properly sanitized.

If you do not run a rooted Android, consider the information that goes through your phone and consider whether or not you trust your carrier with that information. To a certain extent, we need to trust others. However, it is always wise to consider who you are trusting and how much trust you extend to them. In this case, at least, we can do something about it. Please think hard about this issue and decide what your information is worth to you.