The Hills Are Greener: The Carriers Have No IQ

The Hills Are Greener: The Carriers Have No IQ

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.

The Hills Are Greener: The Ignorance of IQ

The Hills Are Greener: The Ignorance of IQ

Dec 1, 2011

Editor’s Note: The Hills Are Greener traditionally runs on Mondays. However, with the revelation of the Carrier IQ controversy, a mid-week column seemed appropriate.  
Oh Android, what kind of trouble are you getting into now? Originally reported on XDA-Developers and picked up by Gizmodo, there exists a root kit software in many Android phones that records user input. While how or if this information is being reported back is unknown, there are some definite security concerns because of this heretofore unknown software. 
 
Google needs to take swift and decisive action to put out this fire that undermines their platform. They need to make sure this software is not in any devices that have Market access in the future, and to start pushing out updates to remove it in current devices where possible. This kind of software, secretly installed without any user knowledge, is terrible and should not be condoned by Google. 
 
Second, Google needs to take far more control of the Android user experience. This means pushing the Nexus line as their iPhone, and even as an entirely different platform from the rest of the Android devicss. They can produce high-quality phones with a stock user experience – it’s time to start throwing their weight around and sell the stock Android experience. The experience that doesn’t offer bloatware, and log all of their users’ activities. They know bloatware is a problem, they said as much at the Ice Cream Sandwich unveiling. 
 
It is just clear now that the other manufacturers cannot be trusted. I believe that it is possible for a phone to both be open and free for users to do what they want with it, while still providing a stylish and secure hardware and software experience. If Google doesn’t do it, then someone else will. There are clear advantages to a curated experience that Apple provides, and what Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 7, and Google meeds to make this the standard with Android. 
 
Perhaps standards are the key? With Honeycomb tablets, the experiences were very curated by Google, and a device like the Xoom does not have the kind of bloatware that my phone, purchased from a carrier, did when I bought it out of the box. Did I then go and install a custom rom within hours of having my phone? Sure, but a large number did not, I’m guessing. I now realize that I should not have to hack my phone for a superior experience. And no one should have to hack it for a more secure experience. Apple has had security flaws themselves, yes, but they have the ability to fix them quickly and easily. This incident is proof that the open season on mobile operating systems needs to end. The carriers and makers of Android phones will not do it. So Google will have to. They can change Motorola, but it may be time to tell them to get on board and do what’s best for users, or ship out. Good luck with that. Until then, when I buy a new phone, I may just have to consider ditching Android, because it is a bigger mess than I have been willing to admit.