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Carrier IQ Speaks Out on Logging Phone Data -- Keystrokes Not Included

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“We’re very aware that this information is sensitive. It’s a treasure trove.”

After the pandemonium in the last couple weeks over a program secretly installed on smartphones that logs data such as dropped calls and battery life, the company -- Carrier IQ -- has now provided more detail into what exactly its program tracks for service providers.

Wired was invited last week to Carrier IQ's Mountain View, Calif., office to set the record straight about the claim that the software logs keystrokes and clarify what is actually collected and how. Wired reports that Carrier IQ held to the claim it has maintained all along that the software does not log keystrokes, such as numbers dialed and text messages, but did acknowledge that they collect a wide range of information:

“We do recognize the power and value of this data,” Andrew Coward, the chief marketing officer, said. “We’re very aware that this information is sensitive. It’s a treasure trove.”

[...]

“We’re seeing URLS and we can capture that information,” Coward said during the two-hour interview.

He said that the information is useful for users who call the phone company complaining, for example, that Facebook won’t load.The carrier’s operator, he said, might tell the complaining customer that the reason it won’t load is because the customer is misspelling “Facebook.”

“They could say, ‘Facebook is spelled F-A-C-E-B-O-O-K,’” he said. “We certainly recognize that as a future thing for advertising, clearly having that information from a marketing perspective is very interesting.”

Since the company is getting the URLs from the phone, they are able to record encrypted search terms such as https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=ppwe&cp=3&gs_id=p&xhr=t&q=abortion+clinics. By contrast, your carrier, which sits between you and the Internet, would normally only see https://www.google.com/ — for encrypted searches.

Wired notes that not all smartphone service providers elect to record URLs, and the extent of data given to the provider depends the customer package. How often is information being downloaded from your phone, which includes service providers such as AT&T, Sprint, HTC and others? Wired reports Carrier IQ said data gets downloaded about once a day, is encrypted during transmission for protection, and is held for about a month.

Carrier IQ has confirmed that it collects more general information such as locations to show where calls are being dropped or where call traffic could merit an extra cell tower. It also collects more specific information on individual phones, such as when a battery is changed or when an app is using too much electricity. The company says the level data varies from provider to provider but that Carrier IQ itself doesn't have access to the names associated with the phone owners.

Details about Carrier IQ emerged last month when developer Trevor Eckhart posted two YouTube videos detailing his findings about the program and its supposed keystroke logging capabilities, which the company denied multiple times.

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