How-To Geek

Your Phone Carrier Is Tracking You; Here’s How to Disable It

There’s a good chance that your smart phone is loaded with root-level spyware installed—not by a malicious internet source, but by your phone provider. Find out how to detect and remove it to increase performance and privacy.

Background: the web has been abuzz for the last week with talk of Caller IQ, a root-level application installed on millions of smart phones including most Android smart phones, BlackBerry units, and iPhones. Not all phones are affected, and at least Verizon has denied using Caller IQ on any of their phones, but there are plenty of phones which are.

The above video is a demonstration by Trevor Eckhart, the Android developer that discovered the application and publicized what it was up to–watch the video to get a better feel for the reach this application has.

The application has sweeping privileges and can access everything you do on your phone. Although cell providers have denied using the application for anything malicious the reality is that the app is quite capable of enabling deep level surveillance without any indication to the end user that their privacy is being compromised.

We don’t know about you, but we’re not comfortable taking the word of a company that they’re not accessing our private data, text messages, and other phone contents when Caller IQ makes it trivially easy to do so–and to remain completely undetected in the process. So the best case scenario is that your provider is not actively collecting data on you, but the Caller IQ rootkit is wasting precious battery life and clock cycles; the worst case scenario is that, unbeknownst to you, it’s radically compromising your privacy in ways you never authorized.

iPhone users have it easy; they can simply navigate to Settings -> General -> About -> Diagnostics and Usage and then toggle it to “Don’t Send”. Android users will need to dig much deeper: if you’re ready to check your phone and remove the Caller IQ installation (something you can’t do simply by uninstalling an app from your system menu as the carriers have made the application invisible to the end user) we highly recommend checking out Lifehacker’s thorough write up covering detection and removal at the link below.

Carrier IQ: How the Widespread Rootkit Can Track Everything on Your Phone, and How to Remove It [Lifehacker]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/1/11

Comments (29)

  1. Lewis

    Is the location to turn diagnostics off for iPhone, only iOS 5? I do not see it in 4.

  2. emar1000

    Do the windows phones have a tracking app like this running?

  3. Joe

    Everything I’ve read says that only iOS 5 includes an option to disable it. All other versions would have to jailbreak probably.

  4. Joe

    re: emar1000

    What I have been reading so far says it is only on Androids carried by Sprint and AT&T and all iPhones. Verizon Androids and all windows phones seem to be left out.

  5. Mark F.

    Off to search out the files on my phone.

  6. jen

    I have a Droid 2 and Verizon. So you guys think no tracking for this one???

  7. Thomas

    @jen – They only confirm that Caller IQ is not installed. I am using a Droid X2 on Verizon and I am only “slightly” comforted about their denial of Caller IQ. What other product(s) could they be using? That’s my question.

    @Everyone else in the world – I don’t really care if my carrier wants to track my course location and cell tower strengths as long as that is the only thing they track. I can see the benefit in analyzing that data. Anything else should be an “opt-in”.

  8. jen

    I will have to go check my phone. Thx

  9. Mariam

    What about the blackberry ?

  10. Ty

    What about blackberry

  11. Mariam

    Does it also contain the same software as the iPhone and the Android phones, and if yes, does anyone know how to detect/disable it

  12. 4greaper

    Or you could flash cyanogenmod or another custom ROM with CIQ removed. :)

  13. G-ma

    What is their reason/purpose for installing it?

  14. Allen

    The more I learn about smartphones like they are the targets of muggers and thieves but also the fact that they are an extension of big brother, the less likely I will replace my older cel phone with a smart phone. No thief wants an older style phone like most hackers will target a PC and not a Macintosh. I’m going to play it safe and surf the net from my Mac and text from my older style phone

  15. Rick S

    I bet a guy could make a few bucks cleaning the spyware off phones. lol.
    I would pay just find out if my phone is clean or not.
    I think somebody should get their arms broken for this.

  16. DBigWoo

    Don’t forget to check your iPod and iPad. They have that setting on them too.

  17. Player911

    If it is a rootkit, it is something buried deep in the OS… and not something they will easily make accessible to disable. So iPhone users, don’t be so easily fooled that simply turning off “Location Settings” or Disabling Useage and Diagnostics is the solution. Android phones have similar options but if you READ the article it states that EVEN with those disabled, the Caller IQ was submitting the information.

    There is a program that can check for Caller IQ and other similar rootkits on XDA forums. Fortunately custom roms don’t build these in, but still good to check anyway.

    And Verizon saying they don’t use this is absurd. I bet Verizon has some similar experience on their handsets as well.

    And by the way, it isn’t an OS flaw, but rather a feature included by the carriers.

  18. Paul Silvan

    Verizon says only that they are not using CIQ to track users. They do not say that they are not tracking users.

  19. Billy

    aahhhh!! the blessings of using an old phone!

  20. tommy2rs

    And this comes as a surprise to anyone why? Corporations are about as trustworthy as lawyers, politicians and governments.

  21. RVD64

    Not only they are infringing my privacy right but they are probably transmitting all that information using my data service that is limited. I pay for it for my use and if they are using it without my permission they are stealing from me.

  22. Nevada smith

    What about the iPad? The iPad is just as mobile as a cell phone. Is there any demonstrative evidence of IPad CIQ SW?

  23. Melisa

    I have IPhone 4 and the setting to disable is there.

  24. Declan OReilly

    Rogers branded samsung galaxy tab running froyo. Downloaded two of the detectors from the market place. First one says installed but not active, but since i have no sim installed and running wifi only, that could mean it needs an active cell connection before it activates, or Rogers just rebranded and locally tweaked an existing AT&T firmware.

    The second download was to check for false positives

  25. Tekkie

    Will disabling/removing this software interfere with the GPS tracking ability of the phone? This feature is important for me, on my kids’ phones….

  26. Rob

    Can anybody help me with the disabling of Caller IQ on my iPhone 3GS?

    If I go: *Settings* *General* *About* I do not have any Diagnostics or disable type setting…
    If I go: *Settings* *General* *Usage* I do not have any Diagnostics or disable type setting either…

    Besides, Player 911 says above: “So iPhone users, don’t be so easily fooled that simply turning off “Location Settings” or Disabling Useage and Diagnostics is the solution.”

    I have no technical expertise whatsoever.

    If someone could write a post or article on this for the non-tech savvy, I would appreciate it.

  27. Smiling Carcass

    @RVD64 Check your T & C- you might have given permission.

    Here is a very good, non-sensationalist description of what is and isn’t happening-

  28. Jesse

    As Nirvana said, “Load up on guns and bring your friends…” the s|-| I T
    is gonna hit the fan in this generation…

  29. stupid iam

    It’s called sky agent. This has been in service since all about the patriot act.its the 5 backdoors into everyones cell phone for the access anyones cell phone from anywhere.even if its turned off .it will reboot .they can access your files see you thru your own camer they have total control over your device.if you remove this file its still in the hidden nv files .you will also send a red flag and catch some unwanted attention.don’t believe me .

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