T-Mo: Carrier IQ on 450,000 phones, but use is limited

Unlike competitor Sprint(s S), T-Mobile has taken a more restrained approach to its use of Carrier IQ’s handset monitoring software. In a letter to U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) released on Wednesday, T-Mobile acknowledged installing Carrier IQ’s software on 450,000 Android(s goog) and BlackBerry (s RIMM) phones, but claimed to use a limited version of IQ Agent that can’t peer down into the depths of the device and said the data it collects was reserved solely for individual device troubleshooting purposes.

That stands in contrast with AT&T and Sprint, which use a deeply embedded version of IQ Agent to perform general diagnostic testing on the health of its network and test the overall performance of its device portfolio. Sprint has by far the largest implementation of Carrier IQ’s software, embedding it in half of all devices, though it said last week it has deactivated the software on all handsets. AT&T(s t) only started working with Carrier IQ this year, so IQ Agent is limited to fewer than a million of its devices. But both operators admitted to using the data they collected for more than just troubleshooting individual customer complaints.

As we pointed out in our own analysis of how IQ Agent and its Mobile Service Intelligence Platform (MSIP), operators have the ability at any time to recruit specific devices into the ad hoc network ‘focus groups’ to test different network and device performance issues, effectively turning customers into unwitting lab rats. While both and Sprint and AT&T take advantage of those capabilities, it appears T-Mobile does not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation shows how IQ Agent works

In its letter, T-Mobile stated it does not track GPS location, URLs, message or web content or keystrokes. Furthermore, the version of IQ Agent it uses is installed in the phone after it leaves the factory so it doesn’t have access to the deep signaling layer information an embedded version of the IQ software could tap.

The diagnostic data it does collect is stored on Carrier IQ’s servers for 30 days, and it’s only accessed by T-Mobile customer care representatives addressing a specific phone problem when a call comes in, T-Mobile said. The operator said it does use the data for marketing purposes, but apparently not even its engineering staff has access to that data, so it can’t be used for network optimization purposes.

As more and more operators cop to working with Carrier IQ, it’s becoming readily apparent some of them have been using IQ Agent much longer and much more extensively than others. Sprint has been using Carrier IQ since 2006, while the first T-Mobile phone with IQ Agent shipped just last August. Depending on how the controversy shakes out, operators may be permanently damaged or the entire issue may be forgotten. In a GigaOM research update (subscription required), Stacey Higginbotham explored the potential fallout.

Motorola(s mmi) also responded to Franken’s query this week, revealing it has installed Carrier IQ at its customers’ request on four devices: The Admiral and Titanium for Sprint and the Atrix 2 and Bravo for AT&T. Here is the list of the T-Mobile smartphones loaded with IQ Agent:

  •  HTC Amaze $G
  • Samsung Galaxy SII
  • Samsung Exhibit II 4G
  • T-Mobile MyTouch by LG
  • T-Mobile MyTouch Q by LG
  • LG DoublePlay
  • BlackBerry 9900
  • BlackBerry 9360
  • BlackBerry 9810