Carrier IQ, the embattled software company at the center of the controversy over alleged data collection on mobile devices, has released a new document that details the ways in which carriers deploy the software, how it works on devices and what data it is capable of collecting. The company also admitted in the document that its software has a bug that, in some specific cases, could cause the application to collect the contents of SMS messages.
In its report, released Monday, Carrier IQ says that under some limited circumstances its software will log the contents of SMS messages sent to a user’s phone, but that that the contents of those messages would not be human readable. Instead, they would be in an encoded form that could not be decoded without special software and the carriers don’t have access to the contents of the messages either. The company said it has developed a fix for the bug, which affected devices running the embedded version of the Carrier IQ agent.
“Over the course of the past week, as Carrier IQ conducted extensive reviews with the Network Operators, Carrier IQ has discovered an unintended bug in a diagnostic profile to measure radio-network-to-mobile device signaling. This diagnostic profile is used to gather network conditions during voice calls to determine why they fail. Using these profiles, the IQ Agent collects ‘layer 3’ signaling traffic between the mobile device and radio tower, to help the Network Operator determine, for example, why a call might be dropped or which radio towers are communicating with a device during a voice call. Carrier IQ has discovered that, due to this bug, in some unique circumstances, such as a when a user receives an SMS during a call, or during a simultaneous data session, SMS messages may have unintentionally been included in the layer 3 signaling traffic that is collected by the IQ Agent. These messages were encoded and embedded in layer 3 signaling traffic and are not human readable,” the company said in its document, “Understanding Carrier IQ Technology”.
Throughout the document, the company stresses that the data that researcher Trevor Eckhart showed being collected by Carrier IQ on an Android device in his video demonstration is debugging data that’s output to Android log files. The Carrier IQ agent does not use those logs to collect data or send any of that information to carriers.
“Our investigation of Trevor Eckhart’s video indicates that location, key presses, SMS and other information appears in log files as a result of debug messages from pre-production handset manufacturer software. Specifically it appears that the handset manufacturer software’s debug capabilities remained ‘switched on’ in devices sold to consumers,” the Carrier IQ statement says.
“As discussed, in the embedded deployment model, the Carrier IQ API is the only method by which metrics are passed from the device operating system to the IQ Agent. The IQ Agent does not use the Android log files to acquire or output metrics.”
Security researchers who have reverse-engineered the Carrier IQ agent on various Android devices have found that the software does not, in fact, have the ability to record text messages, emails or the contents of Web pages visited by users. The application can log which URLs a user visits, but not the contents of those pages. It also can’t see or record the contents of emails or other messages, researchers said.