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Richard is Computerworld’s Junior Content Manager and occasional reporter and blogger, responsible for making sure the site is full of the latest and greatest technology news from around the world. Richard joined Computerworld from the world of PR, which he likes to think of as like leaving the Empire to join the Rebel Alliance. Richard is interested in open source, new technology and science, and the world of mobile. He’s also partial to all things geek, happiest when discussing the finer points of science fiction or playing a video game or two. Catch up with him lurking on Computerworld’s Facebook page.

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Open source offers an answer to the CarrierIQ spying controversy

Android developers come down hard against carrier tracking

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Developers of the popular custom Android distribution CyanogenMod have come out against the controversial tracking software vendor CarrierIQ, and stated publicly that none of their software has ever used the monitoring system.

Russell Holly, respected Android community member and contributor to Geek.com and AndroidSpin, wrote:

“Everybody with access to a web browser over the last week or so has undoubtedly seen the recent upheaval about Carrier IQ. The truth is, Carrier IQ has been around for quite some time. It is one of the nastier examples of bloatware installed by carriers, and it is more than likely something that will always be there in some form or fashion. That is, as long as your phone is running the OEM provided version of Android.

As this version of Android is based entirely on work from the Android Open Source Project, the CyanogenMod team would like to assure everyone that Carrier IQ has never, and will never be a part of our Operating System. There is no risk of this kind of software to ever be shipped as a part of CyanogenMod, period. Please, take it upon yourselves to educate anyone who is concerned about Carrier IQ, and offer them CyanogenMod as the only real opt-out they are likely to get any time soon.”

The implication in Holly’s words, hosted at the official Cyanogen website, is pretty clear. The CM team have little faith in the protestations from networks and CarrierIQ that the software is harmless to users, and don’t put a great deal of stock in trusting carriers not to pull the same stunt again.

Holly has cast doubt on the denial by Verizon that any of its phones use CarrierIQ, citing several URLs that indicate that the network may indeed have used the service in the past, or on devices that are not phones.

Indeed, Holly raises a fairly critical point, which is that regardless of what the software is doing, users have been treated with disregard approaching contempt by their vendors, being kept in the dark on a fairly fundamental issue — what is running on their personal phone?

As personal information gets more and more valuable, my gut feeling is that we will see many more instances of companies pulling manoeuvres that may not be illegal, but are certainly not what most users consider fair and open.

Taking control of our devices, by replacing the software that companies want us to use with code that is created and controlled by the community, may be the only option for those who still care about privacy.

CyanogenMod, which is based on the code Google releases as part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), was created as an alternative to the version of the operating system loaded as default by hardware vendors and network carriers. More information and installation instructions can be found at the Cyanogen website, or XDA Developers.

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