A Connecticut attorney is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against a little-known California software company accused of embedding software in smartphones that monitors and shares personal information without a users’ consent.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford Tuesday alleges that Carrier IQ, Inc., Samsung Electronics America Inc., and Samsung Telecommunications America LLC, violated the Federal Wiretap Act by collecting personal information from more than 130 million users without giving them an opportunity to opt-out.
It’s the 13th class action lawsuit filed against the defendants since the beginning of the month. Six class actions have been filed in California, two in Boston, and one each in Miami, St. Louis, Chicago, and Beaumont, Texas, according to Courthouse News Service.
Carrier IQ has been at the center of what has quickly ballooned into a privacy firestorm over the use of its software by a handful of wireless carriers. Torrington, Conn. security researcher Trevor Eckhart published a video on YouTube disclosing how the company’s software could be used for extensive tracking by wireless service providers or other third parties.
“We do recognize the power and value of this data,” Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s chief marketing officer, told Wired.com last week. “We’re very aware that this information is sensitive. It’s a treasure trove.” But Coward told Wired that Carrier IQ did not gather keystroke information and the information is only being shared with wireless providers.
Connecticut attorney Ryan McKeen, of Leone, Throwe, Teller & Nagle in East Hartford, is the lead plaintiff in the complaint here. He uses a Samsung Android phone on the Sprint network.
Up until a few weeks ago, McKeen said he was unaware his phone could be sending potentially confidential information to a third party. After all, McKeen is a practicing lawyer so attorney-client privilege applies to some of his communications, but the software on the phone is unlikely to know that much.
McKeen said he was aware Sprint probably keeps text messages for four to six weeks, but he said he was unaware the phone — without his knowledge — was gathering other personal information.
After watching Eckhart’s 18-minute video detailing how Carrier IQ collects the personally identifiable information, McKeen wanted to find out if Carrier IQ’s software was on his phone. There’s now an app for that and it turns out the software was on his phone without his knowledge.
“I feel lied to,“ McKeen said in a phone interview Tuesday. He said that at least with Google’s gmail service he knows the company is searching key words in order to determine which ads to show him, and he knows when he posts a photo on Facebook that it is going into the public domain. But he said he had no idea that his phone could be gathering so much information.
“The cellphone is giving a 360 degree view of me and, in many ways, is more intrusive,” he said. “I had no clue my phone was doing it.”
In his video, Eckhart demonstrates how the software can be hard to detect and how it can be used to capture a lot of data, including keystrokes.
Following the publication of Eckhart’s video, Carrier IQ issued a cease and desist letter threatening him with legal action if he did not remove his post. Eckhart reached out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that protects free speech online. The group took up Eckert’s case and forced Carrier IQ to retract its demands. Carrier IQ has since issued an apology.
For its part, Carrier IQ claims that it is not transmitting all of the data its software has the potential to collect, but that doesn’t make McKeen feel any better.
“They’re recording it and the ultimate end purpose has to be advertising,” he said.
Carrier IQ claims it only shares the information with wireless providers who want to improve their networks.
The Connecticut lawsuit was filed by Peter Van Dyke of Eagan, Donohue, Van Dyke, and Falsey of West Hartford.
Carrier IQ faces a potential civil penalty of $100 per day, per violation.