Big Brother Is Watching

December 5, 2011

Political Theory

Recently it has been discovered that CarrierIQ, software installed on many smartphones including the Android and some iPhones, has been collecting data from users.  This includes monitoring the apps that have been installed, location and even the keystrokes that a user makes.  Understandably, many feel this level of involvement is cause for concern.  The company in question has denied that it collects keystrokes, affirming that information that is collected is encrypted “to help network performance and customer service for smartphones” (Lynch).  The co chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus is now urging the Federal Trade Commission to look into this information storing.

Considering that a majority of my friends own a smartphone, I feel like this news strikes particularly close to home.  How would you feel about your provider having access to this much information about you and your phone usage?  We have all been warned about sharing sensitive information over Facebook and on other online forums; people might not always be so careful while using a device that they perceive to be secure.  It seems as if this practice is likely legal in the United States, though Europe’s more stringent privacy laws may not permit such a dramatic invasion of privacy.  If phones with this software have been distributed in Europe, it’s more likely that CarrierIQ will find legal troubles on their hands.

This article brought to mind Martha Ackelsberg and Mary Lyndon Shanley’s piece “Privacy, Publicity and Power.”  They discuss the complications of defining the public and private sectors, analyzing the implications of reproductive freedoms when applied to the various spheres.  In their conclusion, it is stated that although they “cannot definitively draw a definitional line between public and private for all circumstances and all times, we must be alert to the issues of power and influence at stake in any particular attempt to do so.”

Could the analysis of customer data for the purpose of improving service be a valid reason to invade the privacy of consumers?  It has been said that this storing of information was not sufficiently explained to consumers, or in fact at all delineated.  If this carrier is in fact logging application usage and even keystrokes, it would hold enormous power over customers.  I doubt that many individuals would be comfortable with their carrier releasing information gathered from their texts to other companies.  How many times does the average student send an incriminating drunk text?

What do you all think about this article, especially those of you who might be using smartphones?  What kind of power has this carrier assumed by logging this type of information?  Is the possible violation of your privacy worth the benefits that your phone offers?




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11 Comments on “Big Brother Is Watching”

  1. madelinedunn Says:

    This post reminds me of a topic that was brought up in my Communications 101 class. We were talking about facebook’s new face recognition software. This software can detect a user’s face even if they are wearing a disguise. You can go here to enter into ABC’s facial recognition challenge to try and fool the technology. ABC also reported that facebook has gotten into trouble for changing their privacy settings without a clear indication that they were doing do. This type of software used to only be used by the government, and now it is being used on everybody with a picture on a facebook profile page.

    With these new types of softwares hitting the market, people now should realize that nothing with a screen can be 100% safe. I think that in order for these types of new technologies to be used, they must first be clearly explained to the customer before one begins using the product. Unfortunately, I do not have a solution for what can be done about this, other than for the consumer to stop using the devices if they do not like the insecurity.

  2. finkelbr Says:

    I have never heard of CarrierIQ before but I hope that it is not on my iPhone. I do not at all like the fact that they would have access to all of my activity, especially to my personal text messages to family and friends. I am shocked to hear that they have this amount of power and can obtain this type of information so easily without anyone repercussions.I do not so much mind the ability for them to see what other applications I download. I think that this type of information can be argued beneficial for consumer research. However, having access to any other type of information on my phone is unacceptable to me. I love my iPhone and have been a smart phone user for about four years now. To me, all of the benefits of my smart phone are not worth me giving some company any information they wish to obtain from my phone. I would rather have a secure phone than have a smart phone and give away all of my private information to a company so they can do some “customer analysis”.

  3. rachdavidson Says:

    This post reminds me of a incident that happened at my friends high school junior year. The school had given the students laptops for school and personal use. After weeks of facebooking, ichatting, and surfing the web, it was discovered that the computers had a software that was tracking all the information, and SPYING on them through a webcam in their own homes. A law suit was filed, and the defense teams main argument was that it was for the safety of the kids.

    In both scenarios, the defense teams alleged that the spying was for a benefit. Kind of like opportunity cost, you give up one thing to gain another. However, I personally would much rather have privacy and peace of mind than a better working phone or safety. The recipients did not ask for the service, and the fact that they were not informed makes the entire situation shadier and sketchier than it already is.

  4. adamklein1 Says:

    I personally use a smart phone, and often find myself carelessly communicating with my friends and family, the majority of whom operate smartphones as well. I have never personally heard of CarrierIQ, but if it is actually on my phone I would be seriously concerned. Something as personal as a text message should never be made so easily available to the carrier, regardless of what little benefit it could provide. The fact is, that speaking through text messaging and other smartphone capabilities is often the quickest and most reliable form of communication. I do not want to have to be concerned that this useful technology is not in the least bit secure.

    There was an similar incident that took place at Lower Merion High School last year. At Lower Merion, the school distributed laptops to each student, that the students were permitted to take home. In the case of a stolen laptop, the district could activate the webcam, in order to determine the location of the schools property. However in this particular instance the district activated the webcam on a student’s computer while the student was in the security of his own home. Images were captured of the student being involved in some illegal activity, and the student was suspended. This caused immediate outrage throughout the community and led to the district eventually paying the student a large sum of money in court. When this instance was brought to court, the right decision was made, and it was clear that this violation of privacy could not be tolerated. I would like to hope that people feel the same way about the CarrierIQ situation.

  5. chadmach Says:

    I think that this same problem can be applied to internet use on your computer. The difference is that a user has the ability to turn on or off the ‘cookies’ on their computer. It is a major issue for this company to be collecting information off consumers phones without their consent. That being said, I do think that they should be allowed to collect data as long as the person who owns the phone consents. Otherwise, companies like CarrierIQ should not be allowed to store information. I would like to believe that this company was using their power in the correct way, but it is still unsettling to know that they have that power and makes me want to get rid of smart phone even more than I already do.

  6. masonbear Says:

    As an iphone user I was surprised at the allegations brought against CarrierIQ. If the allegations that Carrier IQ is recording keystrokes are proven to be true not only is the service invading privacy they are endangering the individuals whose phones they track. A primary concern would be the security network that CarrierIQ upholds. Is it plausible that a computer hacker could infiltrate their database? I would say yes, and in doing so a wealth of personal information is at the fingertips of an unknown individual. To answer the question of what power the carrier has concurrently answers how much information said hacker could obtain. I frequently use my iphone to check bank statements and email and have even entered my Social Security number to verify my identity, enough information to bring serious financial issues to anyone being monitored by CarrierIQ. Even more detrimental to the individual would be a simple application such as Maps. A hacking individual now is aware of where the smartphone user is headed, and the route they will take to reach said destination. The dangerous outcomes are limitless and all in the name of “helping network performance and customer service for iphones.” Sounds like big brother needs to take a step back.

  7. pbaumhart Says:

    Like many of the people commenting on this post, I too have an iPhone. I would like to say that I was surprised by the fact that software like CarrierIQ exists, but truth be told I am not all that surprised by this egregious invasion of privacy. As with many technological advances the potential to have our personal information shared in a public setting becomes increasingly risky. Personally I would not like my information to be shared, mostly because there is a good chance that I would likely get in trouble for some of the things that I say. It is very well possible that CarrierIQ is accessing this information with the intent to use the data to better market products to consumers, but it does cause a certain issue of principle to arise.

    With the potential of information to be accessed in an unregulated manner this creates a situation in which private information can be accessed, although the chances that this information is used in an inappropriate way are very slim it is still very possible for such a thing to occur.

  8. dcmiller93 Says:

    More and more it is becoming clear to me that the sacrifice of our personal privacy is the cost of the increase in convenience modern technology has ushered in. I love my iPhone, maybe a bit too much, it’s so functional and helpful and fun. I never want to go back to my iPhone-less existence. I may be exaggerating my own feelings a bit, but this is the attitude a lot of smartphone users share. The convenience and novelty of these devices is so great that I would guess many people simply don’t care that their security is at risk.

    In this particular case, I seriously doubt the company in question has any malicious intent in gathering user information. What could they possibly do with the knowledge that I downloaded a Pandora application to my smartphone? Nevertheless, I do have a problem with the fact that they seem to be less than forthcoming and transparent about the nature of their data retention. Users deserve the right to know that they are being snooped on, I just think that few people would really care.

  9. eaaldrid6409 Says:

    Like many of my classmates, the potential of Carrier IQ invading my privacy
    concerns me. I, too, had never heard of Carrier IQ before reading this
    post. Where I understand collecting such information may be beneficial to
    improved customer service, I feel that carriers should give consumers the
    option to choose whether or not they would like to participate in such
    research. Additionally, consumers should be able to choose what types of
    information carriers are able to collect from their personal phone usage.
    I’m sure many smartphone users, as myself, would not be okay with
    carriers accessing personal text messages, emails, etc. Masonbear brought
    up a good point I had not considered as I was reading this post. CarrierIQ,
    as any other software company, is subject to possible outer-party attacks.
    This would indeed put millions of consumers in great danger, financial as
    well as physical. Personally, violating my privacy is not worth the
    benefits of my phone mostly because there are other ways to provide the
    benefits many enjoy without infringing upon people’s personal rights.

  10. nasearc Says:

    Although CarrierIQ takes private information from consumers without permission, they mostly use this information to make upgrades to technology. I agree that it is wrong for CarrierIQ to use private personal information of their customers. It is a violation of the consumer’s right to privacy and CarrierIQ should be punished legally for doing this to their customers. However, the technology this company and others like are able to create is some of the most popular.
    The phones and software created by CarrierIQ are some of the most advanced and by using consumers’ personal information they are able to add special features and personalized effects to all their phones. So, is it worth it to have your personal information in the hands of CarrierIQ in exchange for their technology? I would say yes, but only if CarrierIQ creates a contract that allows them to use consumers’ personal information if they promise not to give that information to anyone. I think this would not only legalize the transaction, but also give consumers peace of mind and CarrierIQ the chance to advance their technology.

  11. mrau188 Says:

    This is a very interesting article because of the topic of how we need to be able to take care of everything that we post on the internet. We take things that we say in text messages and whatnot to be private information, however this is not the case. There is always someone out there watching these days, keeping track of information that has been going on and taking care of the american people by monitoring what is happening in every day life. There is no privacy violation when it comes to this topic because everyone when they sign up for their wireless plan allows the company that they sign with to be able to track the information that goes in and out of their phone each and every day of the year. There is always fine print when it comes to when the consumers download applications to put on your smartphone. They always have something that says that it will track the information that allows them to make things happen when it comes to the privacy of the individuals, this is not as big of a problem as people are making it out to be but you have to remember everything that you do people are always watching and you wouldn’t want to do anything that you would regret.

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