Germans join probe of mobile phone tracker

Dec. 8, 2011 at 6:25 AM
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MUNICH, Germany, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The German state of Bavaria and other European authorities said this week they have launched data privacy investigations of the Connect IQ mobile phone software.

Thomas Kranig, chief of the Bavarian State Office for Data Protection in southern Germany, said Tuesday he has sent a letter of inquiry to the Munich offices of Apple Computer seeking information about the tracking tool, Deutsche Welle reported.

"I've only asked if they use it, and if so, how they use it, and nothing else," Kranig told the German broadcaster.

Apple Corp. issued a statement confirming it installed the Connect IQ software on older iPhones but stopped when it published its recent iOS 5 mobile device operating system update, and adding Apple "will remove it completely in a future software update."

Kranig told Deutsche Welle if that were the case, "then I think it's no problem but I will wait and we'll see."

The disclosure of the existence of built-in tracking software on Apple, Sprint, AT&T and other smartphones last month set off a furor among privacy advocates, who blasted the carriers for allowing information about users' activities to be transmitted without their knowledge.

The software's existence was revealed last month by U.S. computer expert Trevor Eckhart, and later examined by security researcher Dan Rosenberg, InformationWeek reported. He determined the version of Carrier IQ he examined on a Samsung Epic 4G Touch smartphone provided data "of interest" to the carrier.

Rosenberg said no content of texts, audio or video messages were recorded but "events" ranging from "phone dialer only" keypresses, the length and phone numbers of texts and Web uniform resource locators visited, were recorded -- information that customers of the carriers could want.

While no "keylogger" was found, the Carrier IQ software is difficult to turn off, rendering it non-transparent to the user, the investigators said.

Carrier ID company officials have stated no personal information was transmitted and it has stayed within legal boundaries.

"Our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS (text) messages, e-mail, photographs, audio or video," it said on a statement on its Web site. "For example, we understand whether an SMS was sent accurately, but do not record or transmit the content of the SMS. We know which applications are draining your battery, but do not capture the screen."

The situation has prompted inquiries not only Germany but in Ireland and Britain as well.

Lisa McGann, a compliance officer at the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's office, told Deutsche Welle he will be in contact with his colleagues across Europe on possible investigations, seeking what information they have uncovered.

And in Britain, the Information Commissioner's Office indicated it would contact mobile phone operators to determine if Carrier IQ or similar software were on British customers' handsets, the IDG technology news service reported.

The scandal also has concerned U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who sent a Dec. 1 letter to Connect IQ President and Chief Executive Larry Lenhart demanding information about the software.

"I understand the need to provide usage and diagnostic information to carriers. I also understand that carriers can modify Carrier IQ's software," Franken wrote, adding he was troubled by the "broad swath of extremely sensitive information from users that would appear to have nothing to do with diagnostics" collected by the tracker.

"These actions may violate federal privacy laws," he said, calling it "potentially a very serious matter."

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