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Apple says it mostly stopped using controversial phone tracker Carrier IQ – mostly

by Phil Hornshaw

Smartphone makers are again under fire for another big potential privacy violation through their devices. This time, the software is called Carrier IQ. It’s installed on most smartphones at the behest of cellular carriers in the U.S. and it tracks a crazy amount of data.

Android device makers such as Samsung and HTC are primarily in the crosshairs over the Carrier IQ fallout, mostly because it’s not clear just what’s being done with all the information that the software collects, which includes things like keystrokes, text messages both sent and received, emails, information about to whom calls are made and from whom they’re received, data usage, and even when the phone is turned on and off. Carrier IQ and the companies using the data claim it’s to make cellular networks better, but the fact of the matter is that no one is clear on just how any of this data is being used, or where (if anywhere) it’s being sent.

Today, Apple released a statement claiming that it has used Carrier IQ in the past, but it doesn’t anymore … for the most part. In a report from TechCrunch, Apple claims that it scrubbed out Carrier IQ when it rolled out the latest version of its iOS mobile platform, iOS 5, back in October with the release of the iPhone 4S. None of its devices carry the software at all now. Almost.

As Ars Technica reports, Apple said “most of its devices” were Carrier IQ-free with the update to iOS 5, and upon further inquiry, Apple revealed that the iPhone 4 is the device that still has the software. Seeing as the iPhone 4 has been insanely popular this year, that still means the software is on millions of handsets.

Luckily, in Apple’s case, Carrier IQ likely isn’t active on your iPhone 4. You have to opt-in to send diagnostic information to Apple in the device’s settings menu in order to enable Carrier IQ; by default, that setting should be switched to “off.” The appropriate switch is in the Settings menu under “About,” then under the “Diagnostics and Usage” tab.

While Apple has removed Carrier IQ from devices running iOS 5, presumably it still exists on devices that haven’t made the upgrade (though, Apple has assured Ars Technica that it doesn’t read users’ texts or emails). That’s a potential security hole that’s likely to draw additional scrutiny, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has already sent a letter to Carrier IQ demanding to know exactly what’s been done with all the information that’s been collected. Hopefully we’ll start to get some answers in the future, and see some tighter security on smartphones.