Editorial: When Did Your Phone Start Watching You?

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Carrier IQ. That name has scared the smartphone market witless in the last month, but is it really all that important and what exactly does this software do? Carrier IQ is nothing new. Actually the concept of tracking phone usage goes back to the earliest data networks. The problem that Carrier IQ has now is that everyone has a smartphone… and they never knew that their dumb phone was being tracked as well.

Starting back in 2003, when we first used our NEC 525 device as a tethered modem to a laptop, AT&T would send us a report of our “minutes used by data” and included a pretty good report on what data was sent and received. They used our dropped call reports to figure out where to strengthen the network. They used our text messaging levels to find out where to build additional capacity for that service. They even used our network data speed reports to find out where to build their 3G networks of the future.

Fast fowarding to today, Carrier IQ lets the operators know how you use your device, the exact same thing that’s been happening for years. The catch is, now we are doing more with our devices than ever before. It may seem like Big Brother is watching via Carrier IQ, but IQ is only a name for a program to figure out how to make the network you are on work better for you tomorrow.

Carrier IQ and programs like it are needed by carriers simply to make our experience on their products better. Think of it like this: Carrier IQ for restaurants – it would say that a person walked into Red Robin, waited 15 minutes for a table, ordered a cheeseburger and fries, waited 12 minutes for food, ate it in 17 minutes and had 2 fry refills. The person then left, leaving a $2 tip. There’s nothing in that data that makes it identifiable, but Red Robin could certainly see that a faster service time might lead to a better tip and a higher level of satisfaction.

Next time, hopefully the industry will explain this better and not give people the option to remove themselves from the program. The data collected is completely anonymous. The program doesn’t affect the functionality of your device at all. The program won’t let the FBI show up at your door tomorrow and search your house for illegal downloads. The program won’t even let your phone company know who you were texting – wait… they already know that…

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One Comment Add yours

  1. There’s nothing in that data that makes it identifiable, but Red Robin could certainly see that a faster service time might lead to a better tip and a higher level of satisfaction.

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