Dec 5, 2011
Some of the fallout is settling from the explosive Carrier IQ revelations – naturally, most parties involved are denying any kind of wrongdoing, or even that their tools are even installed at all on the phones. Apps to search for the existence of the tools on phones now exist. As well, apparently even Carrier IQ was found on iOS devices, although Apple has pledged to remove them in a future iOS software update.
Interestingly, one researcher has found that the software likely isn’t sending vast swaths of user personal information back to carriers and manufacturers, although there are still some questions about the data that is being recorded by Carrier IQ tools. In fact, a lot of this data may be used for benign purposes such as determining where phone calls are being dropped, rather than any kind of purpose of spying on user information.
Now, what if everyone had just come out and said this? Isn’t there some value to controlling the story, instead of leaving it to hackers to discover, and for media outlets looking for sensational stories to cover breathlessly? This software just sounds bad, and why didn’t the carriers try to explain the existence of this software by saying it was for that in the first place?
There are two hypotheses: first, the carriers are evil and actually do want to spy and mine their users’ data for all it is worth. This seems likely, after all, they are the ones that make the term “unlimited” have actual limits. The second is that they’re just incompetent – they couldn’t control this story because they just plain don’t have the ability to do so. There’s a reason why Apple’s curated experience has done well – someone finally jumped into the industry with some sense and direction, and the desire to actually drive innovation in the mobile market. Without Apple and iOS, the mobile market looks nothing like what it is right now. It wasn’t the carriers who drove the market innovations, it’s been the software developers.
This is an interesting parallel to the recent SOPA and PROTECT-IP debates – the media companies have been the ones supporting the bill, but the companies that have helped to drive innovation in media delivery are the ones who are against it. Likely, the carriers are like the RIAA and MPAA: they feel like they would rather preserve their existing business models ad infinitum rather than try to evolve them, because evolution may not work out in their favor. So instead of trying to control their future and create innovations in media delivery, they’re instead playing passenger, and trying to preserve outdated business models.
The carriers are similarly tone-deaf to their future; instead of trying to control the future of the market on their own terms, they’ve let Apple take advantage of them. Android, following in many of iOS’ footsteps, has allowed for a far more open experience than the carriers wanted. And because they have shown continual mismanagement of the future of mobile, PR disasters like Carrier IQ will continue to happen to them, until Apple and Google (especially if they start to push Google Experience devices) have them by the collar, and they will lose any control of their networks. And it will all be because they were more comfortable making bad decisions, like trying to sneak software that could potentially act as a rootkit past their users.