Cellphone companies including AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile use Carrier IQ to track what smartphone users are doing on their phones, but it’s unclear what data is being tracked and what is being done with that information. While both these companies and Carrier IQ claim they want our most sensitive information only to diagnose hardware and software problems, the public — and some members of Congress — still have questions about what, exactly, this powerful software can do.
Thanks in part to the 22,000 people who joined Free Press’ call for a congressional investigation, some of those questions are closer to being answered and mobile users are closer to being protected.
The protection comes in the form of a bill from Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey. Markey released a draft of a bill called the “Mobile Device Privacy Act” that would require phone companies to disclose to users just what is being done with all of their data. If the bill passes, an opt-out provision would go into effect a year later and would require companies to allow users to opt out of data-collection schemes like the one developed by Carrier IQ.
The second bit of good news is a request from Reps. G.K. Butterfield, Diana DeGette and Henry Waxman to hold a committee hearing on Carrier IQ and consumer privacy. “There continue to be many unanswered questions about the handling of this data and the extent to which its collection, analysis and transmission pose legitimate privacy concerns for the American public,” they wrote.
It’s not OK for companies to collect or sell our data under a veil of secrecy. Rep. Markey’s bill and the call for a hearing will help stop the practice. Let’s hope both items move forward.
Josh Levy is associate campaign director for Free Press. He was formerly the managing editor of Change.org, a social action site, and was a frequent commentator on the use of technology in the 2008 election as associate editor of techPresident and the Personal Democracy Forum.