HTC May Track Smartphones

HTC’s Sensation and Evo 3D may be tracking users, which may expand the location tracking debate that has already put rivals like Apple, Google and Microsoft in the hot seat.

According to TrevE from InfectedROM, HTC’s Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread update contains extra, special software in the Carrier IQ, or CIQ, department. In addition to CIQ’s regular function of sending carriers necessary information about one’s smartphone, TrevE says HTC’s version of the component contains a “User Behavior Logging” function that can track phones in great detail.

For example, Phandroid reports this new CIQ can pinpoint users’ locations, identify their applications, and even detect whether a phone has been rooted.

In this last case, TrevE suggests HTC monitors the Sensation and Evo 3D to disqualify customers from warranty coverage even if rooting didn’t cause whatever problem they seek to fix.

Carriers deny they use the information in this way, however, saying the software only collects limited information.

“It collects enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to devise solutions,” said Sprint spokesman Jason Gertzen about the role of CIQ. “We do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool.”

For now, however, HTC is technically within legal bounds to tamper with CIQ, as it covers this possibility in its terms of service. Those with rooted phones who wish to escape this loophole may download software from TrevE and Team Synergy to remove the code from their devices.

However, given growing sensitivity about location data tracking, this accusation may spark lawsuits against HTC over privacy violations, adding HTC to a list of companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft that have already faced litigation related to location data on their devices.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company and its Mountain View neighbor have been fending off allegations of mobile location-based tracking since this spring. Two researchers in April discovered Apple’s iPhone and iPads kept location data for up to one year, sparking investigations into Google and Microsoft’s mobile tracking practices as well.

All three companies now face numerous lawsuits from customers, scrutiny from governments worldwide and criticism from organizations like the ACLU.

In order to avoid similar circumstances, HTC may very well address this reported problem early on by altering the code or disabling the advanced function altogether.

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