Data logging outfit tries to silence whistleblower

A data logging outfit is trying to silence an Android developer who blew the whistle on its software that is secretly installed on millions of phones.

Trevor Eckhart wrote a report which was critical of the Carrier IQ software which is installed on millions of Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones.

He found that the software secretly chronicles a user’s phone experience, from its apps, battery life and texts. Some carriers were stopping users who actually find the software from controlling what information is sent.

Eckhart dubbed the software a “rootkit” and found manuals on the outfit’s website which described its methods and purpose.

However Carrier IQ was furious at his pronouncements and and his posting of those manuals. He issued a cease-and-desist notice, saying Eckhart was in breach of copyright law and could face damages of as much as $150,000, the maximum allowed under US copyright law per violation. The company removed the manuals from its own website and is demanding that he stop calling its product a rootkit.

However Eckhart’s case has been taken up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They say that Eckhart’s posting of the files is protected by fair use under the Copyright Act for criticism, commentary, news reporting and research, and that all of Carrier IQ’s claims and demands are “baseless.” Basically the legal threat was a bullying technique to get Eckhard to shut up.Marcia Hofmann, an EFF senior staff attorney, said the civil rights group has decided that “Carrier IQ’s real goal is to suppress Eckhart’s research and prevent others from verifying his findings.”

Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s marketing manager, told Wired that the company, not Eckhart, should be in “control” of the manuals.

Coward said that he company’s wares are for “gathering information off the handset to understand the mobile-user experience, where phone calls are dropped, where signal quality is poor, why applications crash and battery life.”

He insisted that the software did not look at text and just counts how many texts sent and how many failed.

Wired  asked him if the software could be used to read texts and Coward said it probably could.