Consumer Watchdog has called for a U.S. government investigation of Carrier IQ, the maker of tracking software for mobile phones, and its users.
The consumer group on Friday sent letters to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski asking their agencies to investigate the software developer, mobile operating system makers Google and Apple, and mobile carriers.
"The device many of us carry in our pockets has, simply put, been turned into a virtual spy phone," John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, said in an email.
Carrier IQ's software may be secretly installed on 140 million mobile phones, Simpson wrote in his letter to the FCC. The software has the ability to track phone numbers dialed, keystrokes, user location and the URLs of websites the user visits, Simpson wrote.
The use of Carrier IQ's software by mobile carriers "could be one of history's largest examples of federal wiretapping law violations," Simpson wrote.
Carrier IQ has denied collecting detailed information about individual phone users. The software measures mobile-phone network performance in an effort to help carriers deliver better service, and the company "vigorously" disagrees that it has violated wiretap laws, the company said.
"While a few individuals have identified that there is a great deal of information available to the Carrier IQ software inside the handset, our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video," the company said in a statement. "For example, we understand whether an SMS was sent accurately, but do not record or transmit the content of the SMS. We know which applications are draining your battery, but do not capture the screen."
Carrier IQ follows privacy laws and honors the privacy policies of its carrier customers, the company said.
Representatives of Apple and Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on Consumer Watchdog's call for an investigation.
In November, security researcher Trevor Eckhart issued a report on Carrier IQ's software, calling it a rootkit that could be used to log detailed information about a mobile-phone user's activities. Carrier IQ threatened to sue Eckhart, but later backed off.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.