When the Carrier IQ controversy broke late last year, the only major U.S. operator not implicated in the phone tracking scandal was Verizon Wireless, which categorically denied ever using the IQ Agent software in its devices. Well, it turns out Verizon is introducing phone monitoring software as well, starting with an update to the LG Revolution. The critical differences are Verizon isn’t prying into its customers’ phones surreptitiously and it’s doing so only with their permission.
The Verge dug up the update notice (pdf) on Verizon’s website this weekend, reporting that its new diagnostic tool worked similarly to the remote desktop applications used widely for IT support in the PC world. If an LG Revolution user calls up customer service with a problem, a Verizon rep can log in and access the device remotely to troubleshoot any problems. In addition, Verizon told Android Central that it doesn’t log or save any keystrokes, location info, Web history or other personal data when the diagnostic tool is used.
It seems Verizon is pulling out all of the stops to ensure this software is interpreted exactly as what it is: a diagnostic tool for troubleshooting phone and network problems. The same can’t be said for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile when they admitted in December to secretly recording data from their customers’ handsets.
They and Carrier IQ insisted that IQ Agent collected only network and device diagnostic data and wasn’t intended to log personal info that could be used for marketing or any other nefarious purpose. But the way IQ Agent is embedded in the device — with no easy means of detecting it and no way of removing it — raised many questions as to whether operators had any business snooping around in their customers’ handsets without permission, even if their motivations were benign.
The controversy cost Carrier IQ a lot of business as operators like Sprint disabled its software on all devices and banned it from future ones. During an interview with GigaOM at Mobile World Congress, Carrier IQ VP of marketing Andrew Coward claimed that the backlash has been particularly frustrating since its diagnostic tools, while deeply ingrained into the device, were always intended to be obvious to the end the consumer. When working with non-carrier customers like Apple and Nielsen, IQ Agent had always been an opt-in application, which customers had to actively turn on, Coward said. The software was only hidden deep within the device when operators requested it, he said.
Carrier IQ, however, is now hoping it can convince its carrier customers – at least those that haven’t abandoned it – to be more open about what data they collect and why. At MWC it launched an consumer-facing analytics portal, which it’s hoping operators will make available to their customers. By turning once secretive tools into a customer service, consumers can use IQ Agent data taken from their phones to self-diagnose and gain a better understanding how their behavior impacts battery life and application performance, Coward said.
Of course, carriers may not be too excited about the idea of complete openness. Carrier IQ tracks a lot of network data, such as dropped calls and the quality of network coverage, that operators may not want to arm their frustrated customers with .