Carrier IQ – customer intelligence ethics

Poor Carrier IQ.

I feel sorry for them, and to an extent I want to defend their technology…but, the lack of expert PR to manage this situation has had some shocking [and unforgivable] effects.

Windows Phone Twitter channels this morning branded CIQ as spyware…that’s going to hurt. Other, supposedly credible media have described CIQ as covert rootkit software, secretly spying on users. To be honest that’s just plain unfair.

Remember this is not new technology. CIQ (and others including the OEMs and carriers themselves) have routinely deployed client software to monitor device performance and run remote diagnostics sessions for years. This is customer intelligence, not a spy-ring or some covert government conspiracy. However, customer intelligence has an ethical and moral obligation that, in this case, seems to have been obscured.

Fair enough, CIQ truly shot itself in the foot with claims of not key logging; a statement that user-generated videos seem to rip to pieces. However, for me this all points to a wider issue.

Do consumers really believe they remain anonymous on networks? Do they really believe that Facebook, Google et al are not scanning their posts and emails to better target adverts? CIQ critics have called foul that the CIQ software is tracking location. Really? Do they believe that carriers can’t / and don’t do this already when managing support interactions?

I’m not defending CIQ. Their management of the issue has been poor and there’s a world of pain on its way over data protection. However, let’s put this into perspective. A baying mob of fanboys who don’t appreciate the right of control a carrier has over a [subsidized] device,  or the valid need for genuine customer intelligence, does not make this a new issue. Hey, a couple of years ago Carrier IQ was winning Wall St Journal and Fierce Wireless awards for this technology.

Again – this is no defense,  CIQ has [seemingly] stepped over an acceptable ethical line for this type of device client (I see no valid reason for key logging). It’s fallen foul over the implementation (by OEMs and carriers??) of its software and a lack of transparency in terms of privacy / access rights within the OS. It’s also mismanaged the PR machine terribly. Where is the CIQ response (outside of homepage bulletin)? Where is the information to help consumers understand how the software is not ‘spying’ but monitoring processes, device state to be relayed back to the carrier for customer intelligence and customer experience.

NB – the only sensible analysis of this topic that I have read comes from industry  analyst Rob Brosnan at Forrester.

NBB – this is also a good, in perspective, summary of CIQ and the questions that need answering from @keithdyer at Mobile Europe.