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Guess What: There's an App to Remove That Smartphone Program That's Spying on You

"re-transmits a wealth of data, including your web searches and traffi"

(Image: Trevor Eckhart via XDADevelopers)

Yesterday, we reported that a developer identified a program pre-installed on millions of popular smartphones that logs data and keystrokes, including things like phone numbers dialed, text messages and encrypted web searches. Trevor Eckhart who found the semisecret program, which he notes is awfully hard to remove, has two apps to help you identify and remove it.

The company that runs the program, Carrier IQ, has said it doesn't read messages or other personal information but tracks metrics that indicate phone performance, such as calls dropped and poor signal quality. Even still, Eckhart created a free app that helps users see if they have the program installed on their phone and another app that costs $1 to remove it.

But, Gizmodo reports that these apps come with several caveats:

  • You have to be rooted in order for these to work. And if you're rooted, I would bet that you're running something like Cyanogen, which isn't going to have Carrier IQ. But please, test away.
  • The program is only confirmed to work on a few devices.
  • I would be extremely careful about using the "pro version" that is designed to remove CIQ, because, again, it's only confirmed to work on a few devices, and there's a very real chance you could screw up your phone something major. It's better to just use one of the testing programs, and if you test positive for Carrier IQ, I'd recommend installing a custom ROM (if available for your phone) that doesn't have it.

Extreme Tech offers these instructions to using the identifying app:

If you’re using an Android phone or tablet, [...] as this is an off-market app (an APK installer), you will need to push it to your device manually. The easiest way to do this is to email the APK to yourself, then download the attachment on your phone. If that doesn’t work, you need to install the Android SDK and use ADB. Your phone needs to be rooted, too (yes, carriers do not make this easy — to root your phone, Google “how to root PHONE_MODEL_HERE_”).

Hit “CIQ Checks” (see right) and the app will tell you if it’s installed. Pay $1 and the app will try to remove it for you (this doesn’t always work, though). Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any other way to disable CIQ on Android devices. Carriers like AT&T and Sprint will almost certainly provide some kind of workaround in the next few days, though; the clamoring crowd is impossible to ignore at this point.

If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, head into Settings > General > About > Diagnostics & Usage, and click “Don’t Send.”

If you're not interested in getting an app to see if you have the program, Gizmodo also pulled together a list of devices on which the software has been identified. Some of them like Verizon, Nokia and Windows had denied that the program was on their phones, but Gizmodo reports that it was in actually found the program on all these manufacturers' devices. Among the phones that don't have it are Kindle Fire, Motorola Photon and HTC G2 Thanks

Gizmodo does point out that in the list they have developed thus far, they only have been identifying Carrier IQ on phones, not other programs with a similar function that potentially could be present.

In has become apparent that Carrier IQ works differently depending on the phone. For example, Gawker reports that the amount of information collected on iPhones and other Apple devices is not as extensive compared to other platforms:

On most Android, Nokia and BlackBerry devices, Carrier IQ re-transmits a wealth of data, including your web searches and traffic, keystrokes, texts, and GPS location. On the iPhone and iPad, the situation is not nearly so dire. On Apple devices, Carrier IQ only reports your exact location and whether you're making a phone call -- information your carrier already has in less precise form - and even then only does so if you've enabled certain settings.

After Eckhart released information and manuals about the program last week, he was soon issued a "cease and desist" request from the company and a threat of legal action. The Electronic Frontier Foundation came to Eckhart's aid saying Carrier IQ's requests were baseless and the company eventually backed off and issued an apology. It still maintains that does not use the software to record keystrokes, provide tracking tools, inspect or report content of communications, or provide real-time data to any customer.

Update: Here's another app, Gizmodo reports, to help you find out if your Android phone has Carrier IQ. 

One last thing…
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