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Sprint disables controversial Carrier IQ software across all phones

by Phil Hornshaw

After a whole lot of privacy concerns and controversy swirling around cellular traffic-tracking software from Carrier IQ, Sprint has announced it is disabling the software on all of its devices.

You might remember hearing about Carrier IQ last month after it became apparent that the company’s software was logging a whole lot more information than many people previously believed. Carrier IQ’s function is to monitor cellular traffic and gather information from devices, supposedly to make cellular networks work better. But, as was made public in November, Carrier IQ’s software was determined to be capable of saving and transmitting keystroke information, received and sent emails and texts, and information about who a device was calling and who was calling that device.

According to a story from Fierce Mobile Content, Sprint said it had “weighed customer concerns” and disabled the network analytics software on every device on its network. Part of the reason the Carrier IQ story has received so much attention is that it’s so ubiquitous. FMC reports the software has been used in more than 140 million handsets. It was security researcher Trevor Eckhart who first alleged Carrier IQ was saving a lot more information than was being let on, but that accusation has triggered attention across the mobile sphere and even from U.S. lawmakers.

Sprint reported that some 26 million handsets on its network used Carrier IQ before it was disabled, although only about 1.3 million could actively report data at any given time. Of course, Sprint says it never used Carrier IQ to do anything untoward – it never analyzed the contents of text messages, emails or photos, the carrier says, even though Carrier IQ is allegedly capable of providing all that information. Sprint says it also never used Carrier IQ data to target advertising, but only made use of it to analyze and improve its network.

For its part, Carrier IQ faces multiple lawsuits and a lot of scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers. Samsung, HTC, AT&T and Sprint have all responded to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s questions about the use of the software. Both AT&T and Sprint note, as Apple has, that users had to opt-in to tracking from Carrier IQ. The analytics software company denies that it’s currently under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission, but it has said it has met with officials from that agency. It’s pretty likely that the fallout from the Carrier IQ scandal is going to take a while to be sorted out.

It’s not clear just what Carrier IQ was actually gathering or for whom, but the implications of what information it could have been gathering from millions of cellular customers is pretty disturbing. It won’t be surprising to see more carriers follow Sprint’s lead.