Sen. Franken demands answers on secret cellphone tracking

Sen. Al Franken demanded answers Thursday from the maker of a smartphone app that has been accused of tracking everything consumers do on their phones. 

Trevor Eckhart, a systems administrator in Connecticut, claims an application from the firm Carrier IQ that is deeply imbedded on Android, Nokia and BlackBerry systems allows the firm to track users' every keystroke and action.

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Eckhart's allegations resulted in a wave of media coverage, prompting Franken to ask the firm for details. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Digital Democracy have also expressed concern about Carrier IQ's software and potential tracking.

“Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information,” Franken said Thursday.

“The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling. This news underscores the need for Congress to act swiftly to protect the location information and private, sensitive information of consumers. But right now, Carrier IQ has a lot of questions to answer.”

Carrier IQ is accused of logging and potentially transmitting consumer data such as the phone numbers they dial, the contents of their text messages, the websites they visit, their search queries and even the location of the person using the smartphone.

"It appears that this software runs automatically every time you turn your phone on. It also appears that an average user would have no way to know that this software is running — and that when that user finds out, he or she will have no reasonable means to remove or stop it," Franken said in a letter to Carrier IQ CEO Larry Lenhart.

The letter warns Lenhart that his firm may have violated federal privacy laws including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which governs wiretaps and other forms of electronic surveillance, as well as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act used to prosecute hackers.

"This is potentially a very serious matter," Franken said. He asks Lenhart whether Carrier IQ's software logs user locations and what other data is logged by the program. He also asks what if any data is transmitted, to whom and whether it is shared with third parties. 

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On its website Carrier IQ describes its business as "mobile service intelligence" designed to give "Wireless carriers and handset manufacturers unprecedented insight into their customers' mobile experience." The firm did not immediately respond to a message from The Hill requesting comment.

Franken introduced the Location Privacy Protection Act earlier this year, which would require businesses to obtain consumers' explicit permission before tracking their location information or sharing that data with third parties. He also chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, which was formed earlier this year.

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