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AT&T Brings Carrier IQ In-House

Brian Santo

AT&T has purchased the rights to Carrier IQ's network diagnostics software. Carrier IQ apparently no longer exists as a separate entity; its website has been taken down, and most employees appear to be gone.

AT&T said, "We've acquired the rights to Carrier IQ's software, and some CIQ employees moved to AT&T. We use CIQ software solely to improve the customer's network and wireless service experience. This is in line with our Privacy Policy and provides a great benefit to users of our network." The company had no further comment.

Nielsen was involved in the acquisition, according to one company that did business with Carrier IQ until recently. Carrier IQ and Nielsen have been working together since 2011 to measure the performance of mobile networks, devices and applications. (See Nielsen Teams With Carrier IQ to Measure Mobile.)

Nielsen did not respond to queries from Light Reading by press time, nor did Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart. AT&T declined to comment on any possible involvement of another company.

Carrier IQ's diagnostics software resides on mobile handsets, but handset makers typically install it at the behest of carriers who use the data to improve network performance and customer service.

Several US carriers relied on Carrier IQ's product, but at least one (Sprint) ceased using it several years ago after its capabilities raised concerns over possible invasions of privacy. Those concerns led to a series of class-action lawsuits filed four years ago that only now appear to be nearing a resolution.

AT&T and T-Mobile are believed to be the last two major US carriers still making use of Carrier IQ's software.

In 2011, consumers became aware of Carrier IQ's software and its potential for enabling invasions of privacy through fine-detail techniques such as location tracking and even keystroke logging. (See Carrier IQ: We Don't Record Keystrokes.)

At the time, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile were among those using handsets equipped with Carrier IQ's software. Sprint almost immediately dropped Carrier IQ. Verizon said it never used it.

That same year, several class action lawsuits were filed against Carrier IQ and six handset manufacturers that installed its software: HTC, Samsung, Huawei Devices, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility and Pantech Wireless. (Apple was a Carrier IQ customer, but in 2011 said it ceased installing the software.)

Want to know more about assuring network performance? Check out our monitoring and assurance channel here on Light Reading.

The plaintiffs alleged violations of Federal wiretapping statutes; those charges were eventually dismissed. The suits also alleged violation of variety of state laws; those are the claims that are still being adjudicated.

Carrier IQ and its codefendants were reported to have arrived at a settlement in June, 2015, but no details emerged. Instead, in early November, the US District Court in San Francisco declared that the terms of the settlements are to be made public in January 2016.

AT&T would not comment, but it is reasonable to assume its acquisition of the rights to Carrier IQ's software may have been a factor in the delay to the settlement.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a separate action against HTC, charging that the way HTC enabled Carrier IQ's software made it available to third party apps also running on HTC phones. HTC issued a patch and agreed to create a security unit it must maintain for 20 years.

Carrier IQ was founded in 2004. It raised at least $42 million in venture capital, with the most recent round completed in 2010. Investors included Mohr Davidow (CEO Lenhart is a partner), Accel, Benchmark, Bridgescale Partners, CRV (nee Charles River Ventures), Intel Capital, Nauta, Presidio and Sumitomo Corp.

Carrier IQ gave mobile carriers the ability to gauge the performance of their networks and services; for example, finding out why calls may have been dropped. But as noted, it can be used much more invasively.

Exactly what data Carrier IQ's software collected and how it was used was up to the carriers, however, and none of the companies that used it then, or which may still be using it now, have ever revealed how they were using it.

In 2011, privacy expert Trevor Eckhart -- a Sprint customer -- demonstrated that the software on his phone was secretly logging his data, and publicized his discovery. The software was, and is, hard to detect, cannot be turned off, and cannot be easily removed.

Customers, alarmed by the potential privacy violations, protested, and some sued. Lookout and Trend Micro created apps that Android phone owners can use to determine if Carrier IQ is resident on their phones.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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User Rank: Moderator
1/2/2016 | 10:58:15 AM
It's been some time since the controversy, but I do remember that T-Mobile was a huge offender of this privacy stealing app.

Apparently, people visiting from the UK were buying temporary handsets in the US, and taking them back to Europe going back to 2011. In Europe, these types of tracking tools are highly illegal.  It's interesting that a worldwide brand like T-Mobile would sell it.

As far back as 2011, T-Mobile responded to US Senator's requests for information, stating that the software was installed on more than 450,000 devices. The data was accessable by T-Mobile customer service.

In the letter provided to the Senator, it was also disclosed that data was collected and "used for marketing purposes". However, T-Mobile's engineering staff has access to that data, so it can't be used for network optimization purposes.

It was strange that T-Mobile would collect that data to sell phones, but not use such a valuable tool to make the service better. But this was about that time that T-Mobile's organizational structure was realighned to better suit the primary product of advertising.  T-Mobaile doesn't give two sh*ts about coverage. That approach to wireless service is a hallmark cornerstone of the way T-Mobile is managed today.
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