There is often a lot of bullying in the electronics industry, because a lot is at stake. The tablet and smartphone industry are by far the fastest-growing and highest-grossing in the world of consumer electronics. Each company involved wants to (understandably) protect its turf. It’s just a shame when we run into a David-and-Goliath type situation where a big guy goes after a small guy.
In this case, David is TrevE, a member of the development community who recently exposed a piece of software called CarrierIQ, or CIQ for short, that resides on a handful of phones out there, including HTC devices, and collects data without the user knowing. According to TrevE’s article, CIQ:
is able to query any metric from a device. A metric can be a dropped call because of lack of service. The scope of the word metric is very broad though, including device type, such as manufacturer and model, available memory and battery life, the type of applications resident on the device, the geographical location of the device, the end user’s pressing of keys on the device, usage history of the device, including those that characterize a user’s interaction with a device.
The Goliath, CarrierIQ, has sent a threatening cease and desist letter to TrevE, stating that he has violated copyright laws by exposing the inner-workings of CIQ after seeing a training manual (that he was not privy to), and publishing for everyone to see. In response, TrevE sought out the help of advocacy group The Electronics Frontier Foundation, who in turn responded to CIQ, claiming that TrevE’s work on CIQ constituted fair use.
We’re not legal experts, but we can understand the need for the community to ensure that our privacy is respected by exposing bits of software like CIQ. If an OEM wants to install a piece of tracking software on our phone, even if it’s tracking seemingly benign data like signal strength and battery data, the OEM ought to make this clear to the customer. When we buy a mobile device, it becomes our property, and it’s a bit big-brotherish for software to run in the background, without our knowing, to capture data about our usage.