Carrier IQ Admits Holding ‘Treasure Trove’ of Consumer Data, But No Keystrokes

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — An embattled phone-monitoring software maker said Friday that its wares, secretly installed on some 150 million phones, have the capacity to log web usage, and to chronicle where and when and to what numbers calls and text messages were sent and received.

The Carrier IQ executives, speaking at their nondescript headquarters in a residential neighborhood in the heart of Silicon Valley, told Wired that the data they vacuum to their servers from handsets is vast — as the software also monitors app deployment, battery life, phone CPU output and data and cell-site connectivity, among other things. But, they said, they are not logging every keystroke as a prominent critic suggested.

The data, which gets downloaded from consumers’ phones roughly once a day, is encrypted during transit and also provided  to carriers to enhance the “user experience,” these executives said.

“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.”

Carrier IQ came under intense scrutiny the last few days after a Connecticut-based Android developer posted a YouTube video showing the software has enormous access to usage information, and claiming that it logs a user’s every keystroke.  The company was hit with privacy lawsuit on Friday. What’s more, Democratic Senator Al Franken demanded answers, asking Carrier IQ’s chief executive Larry Lenhart whether Carrier IQ was vacuuming to Carrier IQ’s servers every stroke and communication.

Company executives invited Wired to Carrier IQ offices Friday to debunk the keystroke logging claim. Coward also emphasized that the software does not know the content of websites or apps or text messages or phone calls, but acknowledged that it does transmit website addresses to some carriers as a diagnostic tool.

“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.

Not all Carrier IQ’s customer carriers choose to turn on the “record the urls” function, but some do. How much data is sent to each carrier depends on how much they want. Some carriers might want the text-message data, for example, only when certain conditions are met, such as when a text doesn’t go through to the intended recipient.

The company holds onto the data for 10 to 30 days, depending on the carrier.

Coward said he was not aware of any carriers selling the data it collects on their behalf to third-party marketers. He said Carrier IQ “has no rights to the data collected.”

The software runs hidden from users, who generally can’t find it or uninstall it without very sophisticated knowledge or by switching out the operating system by “rooting” their phone and flashing an alternative operating system. While legal, rooting almost always voids a phone’s warranty.

Occupy Catch-22: Boston Cops Throw Out the Kitchen Sink

Boston Police move in swiftly and with heavy force to remove a sink from Occupy Boston

Yes, it has come to this — cops and Occupy protestors at one of the last major encampments in the United States are fighting over a kitchen sink.

Boston police moved in with heavy force on Thursday’s General Assembly meeting in Boston’s Dewey Square to remove a DIY grey-water sink intended to help Occupy Boston members wash their dishes and comply with sanitation requirements that the city says the encampment is violating.

But the Boston cops who surround the Financial camp day and night enforce an embargo on anything durable entering the camp. So after Occupiers gang-rushed the 10-foot-long industrial sink into the camp Thursday night, the cops forced their way into the camp to remove the ‘contraband.’

One officer guarded the sink, while he was surrounded by a cold and frustrated crowd chanting, “Let us do the dishes!”

The protesters, whom the city has claimed are unable to maintain a healthy and safe area for the Occupy, have been frustrated in their attempts to comply with a Boston PD policy that designates everything that isn’t clothing and food as “construction material” and bans it from entering the Occupy.

The Occupy Boston blog explained on Friday morning:

We are being blocked from replacing our tents with flame-retardant, winterized tents; from adding stability to our fraying walkways; and from protecting the health and safety of our community. Meanwhile, the city, the fire marshal, and the Board of Health testify that we must address these issues. We’re still figuring out how to make sense of this.

Protestors linked arms and surrounded the sink to block police from removing it, using the people’s mic to ask the police to cite the law they were enforcing. The officers remained silent — except for calling for backup, which soon appeared in abundance.

Special operations officers marched in and lifted the industrial-sized sink over the heads of seated protesters, then rushed it back out to the street where they loaded it in a police transport vehicle. The sink proved about two feet too long for the truck, and remained so, despite the repeated shoving of several officers.

Protestors, routed at the camp, ran into the street ahead of the police. They regrouped and locked arms in front of the truck as it tried to leave. While two officers guarded the still-dangling sink, other police formed a line arm-to-arm in front of the truck, resulting in a face-off.

Police and protester lines face off in a conflict over a sink, Thursday night.

Eventually, protestors relented and let the truck leave.

One man was arrested for assaulting a police officer, and the camp medics aided a women who reported by that she’d been struck by a police van, and appeared to have a dislocated knee. She was taken from the scene by ambulance.

Boston mayor Thomas Menino gave a visibly agitated interview on the subject to local news Friday morning.

“I’m not going to allow them to put up a kitchen sink in the occupied area of the city of Boston,” Menino said. “It’s beyond their rights. We’ll let them stay there; we’re not going to have them build a new town there.”

Mayor Menino and the Boston PD continue, for the moment, to “let them stay there” by generously obeying a restraining order issued against them by the Suffolk Superior Court that’s in effect until at least Dec. 15.

This post is part of a special series from Quinn Norton, who is embedding with Occupy protestors and going beyond the headlines with Anonymous for Wired.com. For an introduction to the series, read Quinn’s description of the project.

Photos: Quinn Norton/Wired

Senator Floats Alternative to Internet Blacklisting Bills

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) is doing whatever it takes to defeat Senate and House legislation that expands the governments’ ability to shutter and disrupt websites “dedicated” to infringing activities — including now contemplating a substitute solution.

‘You can strike a balance here between people who are concerned about copyright infringement and those who are concerned about the architecture of the internet’

Wyden originally put a hold on the Protect IP Act, which is similar to the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act. Among other things, they grant rights holders the unfettered power to effectively kill websites they believe are dedicated to infringing activities — all in a bid to combat piracy. Opponents, which include some of the web’s heavy hitters, say the remedy is overkill and that requiring ISPs and search engines to prevent users from visiting blacklisted sites is akin to China’s censorship methods.

Wyden, in addition to a promised filibuster, said Thursday he has gathered a few lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum to initiate what he said was a “discussion” on an alternate method: getting the congressional-created International Trade Commission more involved in the illegal, digital distribution of counterfeit and copyright goods.

“You can strike a balance here between people who are concerned about copyright infringement and those who are concerned about the architecture of the internet,” Wyden said in a telephone interview.

The “discussion paper” he forwarded to Wired says, “This proposal updates import laws to respond to the challenges posed by the digital economy, so that illegal digital imports and digitally-facilitated imports of counterfeit goods are deterred. This proposal would enable a U.S. rights holder to petition the International Trade Commission (ITC) to launch an investigation into the imports in question.”

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