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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Carrier IQ: Is it Worth the Fuss?

The past week in the United States, the technology blogs and publications have created an uproar over the role of a company that's been apparently snooping on most people that own a smartphone.  The company at the centre of the scandal is Carrier IQ and they've opened up a can of worms with regards data privacy in the US media.

Carrier IQ has said they've worked with most major vendors so regardless of whether you've been using an iPhone, BlackBerry or most variants of Android, you've probably been feeding data back to Carrier IQ on how you use your phone.  Who wants this data?  Well, it seems manufacturers and telecom companies are keen to analyze what we've been doing and have been using the services of companies like Carrier IQ to gather this (Gizmodo have a nice summary entitled "What is Carrier IQ?").

The fuss apparently though has been dug up because Carrier IQ could actually gather keystroke data which means if you've been feeding in credit card data or anything else sensitive into your smartphone, they could be recording all of this.

Of course, Carrier IQ denies it would keep that and most manufacturers are now trying to distance themselves from Carrier IQ as well, but this really does beg the bigger question: As consumers in a digital era, should we be surprised that we're being digitally analyzed?  

Image: filmandmusicfashion.com
My basic belief is that if you've got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't worry.  As individuals, we've all got digital fingerprints plastered over the Internet and it may not always seem obvious to us, but if someone wanted to, they could piece together everything about our lives like a jigsaw puzzle.  We've moved on from the age of when Peter Sellers was playing the role of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies and so has any sense of privacy we can expect to have.

Most of us have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google (Gmail), Hotmail, Yahoo, Amazon or Apple iTunes these days and in most cases, these are linked back to our desktop or notebook computer, smartphone, tablet or e-reader.  We've had no problems that these companies with whom we have an account are using this data every minute of every day to either recommend products or push advertisements our way.  They've all get access to a treasure trove of data about our lives and probably use some sort of data consolidation and analytic tool in the background.  Carrier IQ is no different.  It is a tool used to consolidate and analyze our usage patterns.

The responsibility for digital data and digital fingerprints lies with us as individuals.  If we don't want to be traced, we do have an option.  That option is to not buy a smartphone, not use a browser, a social networking service, a search engine, an online commerce retailer or an e-mail account.  The moment we do, it is implied we've consented to have our lives under the magnifying glass.

The US Senate has now weighed into the Carrier IQ case and I'm sure there will be countless more investigations.  The fact is that even if Carrier IQ is slapped over the wrist or dropped as a partner by most smartphone manufacturers, someone else will replace them in this space.  Data privacy laws only go so far but in the digital age, you can't expect to remain private if you want to remain connected.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics