AT&T Snaps Up Assets, Talent From Carrier iQ, Phone Monitoring Startup Goes Offline

Remember Carrier iQ? In the years before Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, the name and its software became synonymous with creepy, unseen monitoring of everything that you do on a smartphone on behalf of carriers and phone makers — allegedly in the name of better user experience.

Now the company appears to be no longer.

TechCrunch has confirmed that AT&T has acquired certain software assets from Carrier iQ, along with some staff. The site itself — and the wider company, it seems — has gone offline.

“We’ve acquired the rights to Carrier iQ’s software, and some CIQ employees moved to AT&T,” an AT&T spokesperson tells us. AT&T signed on as a customer years ago to use the CIQ software across phones on its network to troubleshoot wireless quality for its customers, and the spokesperson went on to explain that this still the case.

“We useCIQ software solely to improve the customer’s network and wireless service experience. This is in line with our Privacy Policy and provides a great benefit to users of our network.”

We’d first heard about Carrier iQ getting sold through a tip, noting “two high profile companies” involved with the purchase. Light Reading, which also reported the AT&T part of the sale, reported that Nielsen was “involved” in the acquisition.

However, a source at Nielsen, when asked about the acquisition, said, “I am not aware of anything.” A separate person noted that Nielsen will actually now be licensing specific CIQ technology from AT&T. We have contacted Nielsen to see if it would provide a more definitive answer on the record.

Like AT&T, Nielsen had been working with Carrier iQ for years already. In its case, Nielsen appears to link into the CIQ software also to measure network performance as it relates to services and ads.

Other named customers and partners of Carrier iQ include Ericsson, IBM, Symphony Teleca and Teradata. Other carriers that use its software include T-Mobile.

Terms of both parts of the deal — AT&T acquisition of some assets and the Nielsen licensing — are not being disclosed.

Carrier iQ controversially rose to prominence back in 2011 after a developer dug up and demonstrated how CIQ code on installed on smartphones — ultimately covering some 150 million handsets (this was in 2011) — was tracking different aspects of how people were using their devices.

The list was described by a Carrier iQ executive as a “treasure trove” and included logging web usage, when and where you are making calls and sending texts (and to whom), app usage, battery life and more — but not every keystroke, as some had claimed.

Knowledge of what CIQ software tracked unbeknownst to the average user clearly hit a nerve with a public already skeptical about how private information is regarded by large corporations and other organizations for their own purposes — a theme amplified in the years to come through the revelations about the NSA and other government groups spying, poor handling of data in corporate data breaches and user tracking for commercial purposes.

And so, unsurprisingly, following the revelations, there was a windfall of announcements about which companies were using it (and were not using it) to collect information; lawsuits over privacy violations and legislation drafted to tighten controls for the future.

Some of those class-action suits, it appears, have been settled. As AT&T did not acquire the full company, we understand that it will not be liable for any outstanding litigation or settlements against CIQ.

Between being founded in 2005 and 2010, Carrier iQ raised $42 million, with investors including Accel, Benchmark, CRV, Intel Capital, and Mohr Davidow.