What if your smartphone has secretly tracked everything you've done for the past two years: every Google search, every website, every key stroke -- not to mention everywhere you've traveled? Sounds like a paranoid fantasy from Enemy of the State, but that's exactly what a secret bit of phone software made by a company called Carrier IQ seems to have done to millions of BlackBerry, Nokia, and Android phones.
An analyst discovered the covert software last month, and a group of Miami residents is now suing the California company for breaching their privacy. "This software is literally a secret agent placed in your phone with the sole purpose of relaying your actions back to the company," says Daniel Dolan, one of the lawyers behind the suit.
To understand the lawsuit, it's worth recounting the recent Clancy-plot-worthy discovery of the software.
Last month, a 25-year-old analyst named Trevor Eckhart published a startling revelation on his blog: A standard program installed on his smartphone appeared to be tracking almost everything he was doing.
The discovery set off an explosion across the geekosphere. Carrier IQ's software was installed on millions of phones -- every Samsung phone with Android and every BlackBerry since 2009.
Company execs quickly released a video explaining the software tracked only "metrics" -- such as how often calls are dropped and where -- but they later admitted they also could read texts, see keystrokes, and collect mounds of other data.
Dolan filed suit against the company December 2 on behalf of seven Miamians whose phones had the secretive software onboard (an action mirrored in recent weeks by dozens of other plaintiffs across the nation). He says Carrier IQ's program clearly violated their privacy rights.
"The company's story has changed several times, and it keeps getting rebutted," Dolan says. "When you sign a contract with a cell phone company, you're not signing off on this kind of invasive data-gathering happening."
(Riptide called Carrier IQ for a response to Dolan's lawsuit. We haven't heard back, but if we do, we'll update the post.)
The firestorm set off by Eckhart's discovery has led to quick action. Sen. Al Franken has called for congressional inquiries, Federal Trade Commission investigators have opened a probe, and just yesterday Sprint announced it was turning off the firm's software on 26 million phones.
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Dolan says millions in Florida likely had their data tracked with the software.
"Carrier's own marketing materials used to say they had 142 million people in their software," he says. "This case will affect a huge number of people."