Carrier IQ: How To Find It, And How To Deal With It

By now, you’ve probably heard all about Carrier IQ, the mobile logging software that an intrepid researcher named Trevor Eckhart found lurking on a number smartphones from multiple manufacturers and carriers.

According to Eckhart’s research, Carrier IQ is capable of tracking what apps you’re running to where your phone is to what buttons are being pressed — it sounds scary, but Carrier IQ claims that collecting that information ultimately helps end-users.

Carrier IQ maintains they summarize performance information to help improve the quality of a carrier’s customer experiences, but what if you don’t want anyone else to have access to the sort of fine-grained data that Carrier IQ is capable of accessing? Here’s how you can figure out if your phone is affected, and how to go about fixing things if it is.

Does your phone have Carrier IQ?

Eckhart’s original report has shown that Carrier IQ has been discovered on HTC and Samsung devices, and that CarrierIQ counts Sprint among their domestic carrier clients. AT&T also appears to use Carrier IQ on their devices: a member of the XDA-dev forums called AT&T and was told that Carrier IQ is indeed preloaded on the HTC Vivid. Other carriers, including Verizon, Vodafone, and O2 have all denied that they use Carrier IQ on their devices.

Nokia and RIM were also among the companies that Eckhart claimed CarrierIQ provided their “mobile intelligence” services to, but they have vociferously denied the connection. The Verge also reports that the three devices in Google’s Nexus line are free of the logging service, so Nexus devotees can rest easy.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take their word for it, as it’s fairly simple to find out if your device has the tracking service running on it. If you’ve got a rooted device, all it takes is a quick download of Eckhart’s free Logging Test app (currently in its 7th revision). Once installed, hit ‘CIQ Checks,’ and you’ll know almost immediately whether or not your device is affected.

Rooting your device will also be required if you want to get rid of Carrier IQ on an affected device, so do look into it. The ease of the process will depend on your phone — for some its a total breeze while for others (usually newer devices) it can be a bit hairier. A quick Google search for “your device name + root” should get you pointed in the right direction.

What about iPhones?

Most of the original furor around Carrier IQ stemmed from its appearance on Android devices, but recent findings from iOS hacker chpwn has revealed that CarrierIQ exists in one form or another in versions of iOS as early as 3.1.3. For what it’s worth, it seems much less nosy than its Android cousin: chpwn seems fairly convinced that the iPhone variant isn’t able to access “typed text, web history, passwords, browsing history, or text messages,” and therefore isn’t able to send that data along.

While the iOS 5 version seems pretty toothless, chpwn admits that earlier versions of iOS “may send back information in more cases,” so the truly worried should make sure they’re diligent about updates.

What do I do about it?

Well, you could just live with it, but I’ll admit that it’s not a terribly appealing option. iOS users who want to disable logging have it pretty easy here: chpwn believes that in iOS 5, CarrierIQ is enabled during the initial setup process if you opt-in to sending log back to Apple. Since that’s the case, all it takes to disable Carrier IQ is to jump into Settings/About/Diagnostics & Usage, and change the setting to “Don’t send.”

If you’re an Android user and the thought of CarrierIQ unnerves you to no end, you have two options to rid yourself of it.

Uninstall Carrier IQ with the Logging Test app

This is about as straightforward as the process gets: once you’ve installed the aforementioned app, pay the $1 for the Pro key in the Android Market. Once you’ve done that, the option to remove Carrier IQ will be unlocked in the app, although ExtremeTech notes that the process may not always be successful.

Flash a custom ROM

This is a bit more extreme a solution than simply uninstalling the service, but it has its benefits: since many custom ROMs are based of the of the open-source Android code provided by Google, carrier-mandated services like Carrier IQ aren’t an issue. On top of that, a good custom ROM can also help give your aging hardware a shot in the arm thanks to software tweaks and features it may not get otherwise.

This process also requires you to root your device, and can be very tricky for first-time modders. If you decide to go this route, check out the XDA-developer forums for more information on what it takes for your specific device. CyanogenMod is a great first ROM for beginners, and they have a pretty extensive list of supported devices along with tutorials on getting it running.