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Carrier IQ exec says company has learned lessons

Carrier IQ marketing exec discusses the company's missteps with CNET.

Andrew Coward, vice president of marketing at Carrier IQ
Andrew Coward, vice president of marketing at Carrier IQ
Carrier IQ

Carrier IQ executives have been on a steep learning curve in recent weeks since controversy erupted over their software, which carriers use to diagnose network problems but critics say invades user privacy.

Carrier IQ says the software--used by AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile--doesn't record keystrokes or the content of text messages. But Android developer Trevor Eckhart, who first disclosed the privacy issues, insists otherwise, and complains that consumers don't know the software is there and haven't given permission for the data sharing. A video he released appears to show Carrier IQ doing things the company and outside experts say it just doesn't do.

Lawsuits have been filed against Carrier IQ and some carriers, while lawmakers are peppering Carrier IQ with questions and asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate--which looks like it just may be happening.

The public backlash has been fast and furious, in part fueled by the company's reaction to the initial report--Carrier IQ served a cease-and-desist order on Eckhart. The company eventually backed down after the Electronic Frontier Foundation got involved on Eckhart's behalf, but the damage was done as the move made it seem like Carrier IQ was trying to censor a whistleblower and had something to hide.

CNET today talked to Andrew Coward, vice president of marketing at Carrier IQ, about The Washington Post report of an FTC probe. Coward acknowledged that the company had talked to the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission, but couldn't confirm that an official investigation had been launched.

Curious as to what Carrier IQ executives think as they peer out from the center of the tornado, CNET asked Coward to reflect on what some reports have labeled a "scandal." Here is a condensed version of the interview:

Do Carrier IQ executives wish they had handled this matter differently?
Coward: One of the lessons we've had from this...clearly we should not have done that cease and desist. We were concerned about the information getting into the hands of competitors and concerned about reaction from customers.

What may have been the right response three or four years ago may not be the right response for now and...and we apologized...we did not expect that we would need to be so open and transparent about everything.... We recognized as the crisis kind of developed that that was required for us to clear our name. That was a huge learning process.

We want to move from this period of crisis, if you like, to a period of understanding (of what Carrier IQ does and why it is needed by carriers).

Have you cleared your name?
Coward: It's too early to tell.

Has the public backlash affected business?
Coward: We hope not...We believe we have very legitimate business and there is a legitimate requirement to help network operators give a better experience.

Do you think the carriers will change their policies as a result of all this?
Coward: It's too early to say. There have been leaks made of FAQs that network operators have put out. There is certainly a need for more information being out there.

Do you have competitors and how do they differ?
Coward: We have competitors who make over-the-air downloadable software. Carrier IQ is embedded and that's kind of hard to do...It's taken six years to get where we are today...(Carrier IQ tries to) ensure that the back-end device is not compromised as a consequence of using our software...there is extensive testing with and without our software.