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Carrier IQ is just the tip of the data mining iceberg

Column Users are giving away their data for free
Fri Dec 16 2011, 15:30


THE RECENT FURORE over Carrier IQ's tracker-ware on smartphones has once again highlighted the naiveté of users when it comes to privacy and technology.

Carrier IQ has acknowledged its software can track activities on mobile phones but the firm has repeatedly denied accusations that its software can log keystrokes. Those accusations were repeated by Google chairman Eric Schmidt last week in what could be the most damning statement against the mobile data acquisition company to date.

However, what Schmidt and mobile operators didn't say was that they want the sort of information Carrier IQ's software provides.

Since the Carrier IQ tracker-ware story broke, phone manufacturers such as Apple, Nokia and Research in Motion have distanced themselves from the software. That's all well and good but as Carrier IQ told The INQUIRER, its customers are not the phone manufacturers but the mobile operators - and therein lies the real problem for consumers.

Carrier IQ's software might be shunned by phone manufacturers but in order to win lucrative contracts with mobile operators to subsidise their device, they hand over significant control over what the device looks like and what software is loaded. Such is the power of mobile operators - not only can devices have significant cosmetic changes but, beneath the visible user interface and running on top of the operating system, a whole host of 'diagnostic software' can be loaded, unbeknownst to the user.

Carrier IQ has been accused of snooping on users without their knowledge, but the truth is, users have been leaking private information through their smartphones for years. While no one should condone what Carrier IQ's software does or those who load it onto devices, it is worth looking at the amount of private information users are freely willing to give away before pounding a stake into Carrier IQ.

To understand why companies like Carrier IQ are in business one has to realise that a smartphone is much more than a small touchscreen computer that can make telephone calls. A modern smartphone, whether it be loaded with Android, IOS, Blackberry OS or WebOS, is at present the most efficient way to gather information that promotes the sale of advertising.

Google's success was built partly on the efficiency of its search engine back in the early 2000s. Its long term success resulted from the company realising that selling highly targeted advertising was what its customers - the advertising agencies - wanted, and in order to target advertising the firm needs as much data as possible about its users.

To understand the potential riches provided by data collected from smartphones, one has to see just how much work Google is willing to give away for free. The firm has used some of the most highly paid software developers to create and maintain operating systems and an extensive infrastructure that it gives away for free.


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