Apple Questioned in Germany as Carrier IQ Use Probed in Europe

European privacy regulators are asking mobile-phone carriers and makers including Apple Inc. to answer questions about privacy issues regarding Carrier IQ Inc.’s mobile phone usage-tracking software.

Germany’s Bavarian State Authority for Data Protection contacted Apple today as regulators in the U.K., France, Ireland and Italy review whether Carrier IQ is in use in their jurisdictions. Apple said yesterday it will stop supporting the software.

“We read in the press about the privacy concerns the software may pose and decided to ask Apple about the details,” said Thomas Kranig, head of the Bavarian agency. “If Apple decided to cease the use, all the better.”

Carrier IQ faces allegations that the software logs sensitive phone-user information. U.S. Senator Al Franken yesterday urged the Mountain View, California-based developer to share more information about what the product does and whether it transmits data to other parties.

Privacy watchdogs were alerted to the issue after Trevor Eckhart, a Connecticut-based programmer, posted a 17-minute video three days ago on his channel, showing how the data-collecting software logs what people are doing on their phones without their knowledge.

Carrier IQ’s “mobile service intelligence” platform receives data sent from phones for analysis to track “customer behavior and usage patterns,” according to the company’s website. The company’s products allow clients to track both “broad trend data” and “diagnostic data from individual devices,” the site says.

Anonymous, Encrypted

“We stopped supporting Carrier IQ with iOS 5 in most of our products and will remove it completely in a future software update,” Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Apple, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “With any diagnostic data sent to Apple, customers must actively opt-in to share this information, and if they do, the data is sent in an anonymous and encrypted form and does not include any personal information.”

Georg Albrecht, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple in Germany, declined to comment on the Bavarian agency’s letter.

Carrier IQ applications “give wireless carriers and handset manufacturers unprecedented insight into their customers’ mobile experience,” according to the company website. Over 141 million handsets have the software, according to data on its website.

The Carrier IQ software doesn’t record keystrokes or provide tracking tools, the company said in a Nov. 16 statement.

‘Direct from Source’

The software works “by automatically providing accurate, real-time data direct from the source - your customers’ handsets,” according to the website. The data is gathered with “no visible impact” on customers.

European privacy regulators said today they are checking with mobile phone operators in their regions to see if Carrier IQ software tracks usage on handsets there.

The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office “will be contacting mobile phone operators to establish if the Carrier IQ or similar software is on U.K. customers’ handsets and, if so, what steps are being taken to ensure there are no privacy implications,” the data protection watchdog said in an e-mailed statement.

Italy’s Protection of Personal Data Guarantor opened an investigation into how Carrier IQ works and is checking Italian mobile phones to verify where the software is in use, according to a statement by Francesco Pizzetti, president of the Italian watchdog.

Defending Use

French privacy regulator CNIL has also begun reviewing Carrier IQ, Elsa Trochet-Mace, a spokeswoman for the regulator, said in an e-mail. Initial finding show the software is not in use in France, she said. Ireland’s data-protection agency will contact mobile phone operators as well to see if and how Carrier IQ is used there.

AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. yesterday defended the use of Carrier IQ software.

The Carrier IQ software is a so-called rootkit installed at the carriers’ request on mobile phones. The application runs in the background and logs user activity. The software data is used to improve service performance, according to statements from AT&T and Sprint, the second- and third-largest U.S. wireless providers.

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