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Carrier IQ Concerns Spread, Legal Questions Linger

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

The tech world is abuzz with concerns about Carrier IQ, a pre-installed app used to monitor smartphones -- including questions about its legality and the consequences of its use.

Never heard of Carrier IQ? You're not alone. The application, ostensibly hidden on a wide range of mobile phones, was largely unknown until software researcher Trevor Eckhart found it on his phone and posted his discovery online, Wired reports.

While Carrier IQ maintains its app is only used for analytic purposes such as tracking battery use, Eckhart found the software also kept a log of every keystroke -- including numbers entered on a smartphone's keypad.

Text messages, incoming and outgoing, are also being tracked and relayed verbatim by Carrier IQ, Eckhart showed in an Internet video. So are smartphone users' web browsing histories, and their phones' location info.

You can watch Eckhart's video here:

After Eckhart posted his findings, Carrier IQ, based in Mountain View, Calif., threatened legal action. Eckhart found allies at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and fought back; Carrier IQ's lawyers seemed to delete all memory of their threats and apologized.

Carrier IQ still insists it does not record keystrokes or texts, CNET reports. But Eckhart's video seems to prove the company wrong.

Internet chatter is also skeptical, as commentators have raised privacy and security concerns. One legal scholar suggested via Twitter that Carrier IQ should "prepare for a multi-million $ class action lawsuit. Maybe a criminal case too? Federal wiretapping is a 5-year felony."

Federal law does allow telecoms to diagnose the health of their networks, but it's not clear how wiretap laws specifically affect what Carrier IQ is allegedly doing, InformationWeek reports.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion said Thursday its phones do not come pre-installed with Carrier IQ, Fox News reports. But it appears many other models -- including Android and Apple iPhones -- do.

Aside from wiretap questions, lawyers may also be wondering how the Carrier IQ revelations may affect their practice. If your firm is concerned about the security of sensitive information, it may be a good idea to stop sending such information via Carrier IQ-equipped smartphones.

Another practice question: Despite Carrier IQ's claims, are phone users' keystrokes, texts, and browsing histories being routinely recorded? If so, can they be discoverable and used against a party in a court of law? An answer to that question will likely arise as more details about Carrier IQ come to light.

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