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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/19670/al-franken-is-concerned-about-your-privacy/

Al Franken is concerned about your privacy

December 3, 2011 by

Senator Al Franken is outraged that Carrier IQ is spying on smartphone users. He has accused the company of violating numerous federal wiretap statues and the lawsuits are already flying.

Skimming the media, one might presume that this villainous outfit sneaks onto people’s cell phones at night, monitors their every keystroke and text message and empties their bank accounts and announces their love affairs at the town square at the first opportunity.

The reality is a little more somber. The Carrier IQ software is installed on phones by cell phone carriers to report diagnostic information. While the potential scope of the software is troubling, it is only capable of recording the information that cell phone providers install on it. It seems to be that at worst, Carrier IQ can be blamed from providing the munitions – but it is the cell phone companies who pull the trigger.

But there are other troubling questions. The use of the carrier IQ software was never secret – while the details were usually glossed over, all carriers admit to collecting diagnostic information from their customers – they have to, in order to do their job. Why is a software and service vendor being blamed for providing services to carriers? No one is forcing people to use cell phones from a particular carrier or even to use a particular model with any carrier. At most, we can accuse carriers of not sufficiently disclosing the capability of their diagnostic tools. Is this really deserving of a Senatorial investigation?

I have a few thoughts on why this might be.

First, there are only a few carriers in the United States, who have much more control over devices and service contracts than most other countries. In Europe and Asia, for example, consumers pay full price for generic cell phones and pay relatively low fees for phone service. For example, in China (where I happen to live), one can buy an anonymous throw away phone number, a cheap cell phone and hundreds of minutes of talk time for about $30. By contrast, a typical Verizon or AT&T cell phone, comes with a two year contract and is heavily customized and locked down by the carrier. It is perhaps not surprising that people are who feel stuck with their carrier cry to the government for help.

Second, there is the widespread perception that telecommunications in the U.S. are closely monitored by a junta of corporations and government agencies, who spy on individuals secretly and with little or no constitutional protections. (This perception happens to be true.)

From these two facts, comes widespread suspicious of any activities which may by deemed as “spying” on users by corporations. Not of the government mind you, but corporations, as if AT&T makes billions in profits and customer goodwill from listening to your conversions.

Actually, the government does pay billions to corporations to spy on you, both for monitoring technologies and wiretap fees. So maybe the fears are not entirely unfounded. But surely people should recognize that without politicians to fund a huge government-industrial anti terrorist/IP pirate complex, and without highly-regulated government-granted monopolies of telecom services, spying on your customers would not be a huge profit center.

It gets worse. Senator Al Franken chairs the Senate’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law and is a co-sponsor of the COICA and PROTECT IP (SOPA) acts, which would create a censorship firewall around the USA in the name of protecting us from piracy and allow the government to seize any website without any due process whatsoever. He also voted twice to extend the Patriot Act – after many years of criticizing the Bush administration for the same. Furthermore, he is a leading champion of net neutrality – or ever stricter “fairness” rules for telecoms.

So, who is the greater threat to your privacy – the U.S. government or a small software company that provides diagnostics services for cell phones?

{ 16 comments }

El Tonno December 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Interview with CarrierIQ’s Marketing Veep here:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/02/carrier_iq_interview/

Dave Albin December 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm

It seems to have worked here – some curious and free person discovered CarrierIQ and what was going, make a YouTube video showing his findings, the free media of all sorts picked up the story and a lot of people read/learned about it. Now, people can choose to support one of the cell phone companies who promises to be more transparent, remove monitoring software, etc., if they would like. Or, they can not worry about it. To me, this seems like the beginnings of a freedom success story………

Delmarck December 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm

The Federal Government is a vastly bigger threat to citizen communications-privacy than Carrier IQ… and Al Franken is a noisy hypocrite.

That is your (correct) main point, but you sure take a long roundabout way to get to it.

However, I strongly disagree with your casual dismissal of any Carrier IQ responsibility for the severe security threat inherent in their consumer product software design. It affects over a 150 million portable electronic devices in the U.S. alone… and has been a very well kept secret. The excuses & disclaimers proffered by the Carrier IQ head marketing guy are absurd … and raise even more red-flags to observers. They built and sold world-class SPYWARE… while claiming (quite unconvincingly) that they don’t use it that way… and it’s not at all their problem if their corporate customers might use it that way.

Sure the cellfone companies are also neck-deep in this — and there’s no doubt they know exactly the capabilities of this Carrier IQ “diagnostic” software… and are exploiting it now. Harvesting private consumer data is a major American industry– it’s practically the business model for Google.

Imagine the legitimate uproar if every retail desktop Personal Computer sold in the U.S. had similar built-in “diagnostic” software that could secretly record & transmit everything the PC user did ! (…but maybe they already do ?)

Inquisitor December 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

You still cannot blame Carrier IQ for the actual uses of the program, any more than you can blame a gun manufacturer for the gun being used to murder.

nate-m December 4, 2011 at 8:56 am

Well you have a bit of a pained analogy going on there.

It’s like a person making a gun, that when it is sold to a buyer by a gunshop, is designed to back fire and shoot the owner in the head and then steal his wallet when the owner tries to use it in the gun range. Something like that.

It is effectively software written by assholes then sold by assholes to people who are lied to about the security and purpose of the products being sold to them. People should be reacting very negatively to this sort of thing. It shouldn’t be illegal. It just should the sort of thing that should put people out of business or at least lose huge portions of their market share… which isn’t going to happen because the FCC has some perverse ideas of how to manage the radio spectrum.

In a healthy world a competitor would be releasing a ad campaign right now that capitalizes on the fact that their competitors are embedding monitoring software into your devices and then using DRM to try to prevent you from finding about it or disabling it.

Daniel December 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Al Franken is a threat to your privacy

Big Brother December 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm

What does Franken want from Carrier IQ? What did they do to him or his cronies that he doesn’t like?

victor December 4, 2011 at 12:05 am

They didn’t pay protection money…eh… campaign contributions to him, nor his party.

nate-m December 4, 2011 at 4:20 am

Pretty much.

The Democrats have their cabal that they support and protect. The Republicans have their cabal that they support and protect. Apparently Carrier IQ is not on Franken’s side… yet.

nate-m December 4, 2011 at 4:34 am

This is why I use a Android phone.

Not because Android phones ship without crap like CarrierIQ, but because I can hack my phone easier and install my own software on it. I can hack a iPhone, but I cannot install my own OS on it.

Right now I use Cyanogenmod. This is a third party firmware that supports some phones. I won’t buy a smart phone that I cannot run Cyanogenmod on. It’s just not worth it. I don’t trust phones and I don’t like the carrier branding and extra controls that they put on phones.

Now keep in mind that modern phones are complicated things with low-level hardware firmware and other controls that even with a custom OS like Cyanogenmod cannot control or monitor properly. So this is not a slam-dunk and is not all of a sudden protect you from external forces “Just because”. To think that would mean magical thinking. But it helps.

You wouldn’t believe the things the carriers do with your phones. Did you disable GPS on your phone? Well.. it’s still enabled. They designed it to lie to you. It is still going to send location information and tracking back to the carrier and other people. People have been able to confirm this through monitoring network traffic on various different phones.

Morey December 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

First, it should be noted that cheap, pre-paid phones are widely available in the US. Many people would rather have a smartphone, which are much more expensive, but available at a highly subsidized rate with contract. So far, it looks like this particular software (at least at this depth) only runs on smartphones.

Some good points are raised here. I agree with Dave that, minus the congressional inquiry, public outcry to any perceived ill is a wholly legitimate market action. The fact that the bumbling state jumps into every argument shouldn’t cloud our judgment on issue.

Apple used the CIQ software in a manner that I think most would consider reasonable for ensuring quality of service. The version on other phones, which captured every keystroke and SMS message, is not something one reasonably expects to have embedded in a phone.

That the data may not have been transmitted, or stored, or analyzed doesn’t allay my concerns. If the data is recorded, it is a liability. It can potentially be accessed, and I am left to trust that it is adequately protected.

john g December 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

All phones ship today with diagnostic software that records when calls drop, which cell tower it was using when the call dropped, and the estimated location of the phone when the failure occurred. Cellular carriers periodically upload this data from the phones and run optimization software to make adjustments to their base stations and antennas.

Before this kind of software was available all the carriers could do was drive around at 300am in the morning looking for “dead spots.” Having the phones report “dead spots” is a real improvement.

JFF December 5, 2011 at 9:42 am

They still do this; it’s called “drive testing.”

Timothy Zak December 4, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I am not so sympathetic to the free market argument for surveillance of customers of a product. Agreeing to a transaction does not give a firm unlimited license to take advantage of their customers, particularly when there is a problem of informed consent. Clearly these companies have a vested interest in their customers being unaware of what they are giving up in exchange for the use of their product.

Full disclosure, I am a person who chooses not to use a cellular phone. However, due to the great convenience of portable phones, I am in a minority, and not in a position to exercise significant influence on demand. But I do not agree with the Randian ideologues who equate market power with moral justification.

Morey,
If your personal data is being accessed or stored in a surreptitious manner, I can’t imagine why you would believe that information would be protected. Detailed information on cell usage is collected so that it can be bought and sold.

sallya December 5, 2011 at 12:01 am

There are always some arguments on market

R.J. Moore II December 5, 2011 at 6:26 am

Al Franken: an unfunny joker who pretends to give a damn about Americans but is actually a raging hypocrite who knows less about economics than a four-year-old with Down’s Syndrome. Sounds like he’ll fit right in with the Senate.

To the point of the blog, it’s arguable that AT&T does make billions by spying on customers; not because it’s inherently profitable (it’s not) but because if they didn’t do it they’d lose the protection of their patrons in the State and lucrative contracts from the Fed (one reason there are so few carriers in the U.S. compared to China).

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