Consider the tire iron. This device is included in every automobile and is used, obviously, to change tires when there’s a problem. It’s used to loosen the lug nuts that hold the tire in place and as a lever or handle on the jack to raise and lower the vehicle. It can also be used with bad intent to kill someone. So is the tire iron intrinsically an evil thing if it’s used in a manner for which it wasn’t designed?
There’s an issue floating around now that raises this very question and it may concern you – if you carry a mobile device, it probably does. It raises a business question as well.
I’m referring to the Carrier IQ situation. This is a company which has developed a software which, apparently, is in huge numbers of smart-phones from HTC, Sumsung and, until recently, Apple. It monitors and records every keystroke and can read the contents of SMS messages and web use through HTTPS connections, both of which are encrypted. In short, it knows all and sees all. The question then relates back to our tire iron.
Why is this software on the handsets? The company says it’s there to help the carriers diagnose and fix network issues and to help the manufacturers with hardware failures. While the software is collecting everything, researchers have found that only the data needed to solve the aforementioned issues is being transmitted (it’s still unclear to whom). The intent, therefore, seems benign although obviously the potential is there to do great evil. Carrier IQ also entered into a partnership with Nielsen, the research company, and that begins to cross the foul line in my opinion.
I think we all know nothing is private as long as we’re on a network of some sort – the ISP or a carrier is watching and we expect that. That expectation doesn’t extend to third parties. If Carrier IQ is collecting all this data, the potential is there for them to sell it (never say never) or for someone to break into their database or the log files on our phones and steal information. By not being forthcoming when the software was discovered, the company and the carriers have missed the chance to get ahead of critics and have been reduced to admitting to things as researchers uncover how the software works.
So once again consider that tire iron – while you might be making them to change tires, others see handy murder weapons. If Carrier IQ isn’t using all the other data, why is it being collected? What do you think?