From the monthly archives:

November 2011

Is Carrier IQ a keylogger installed on 145 million phones?

by Kieran Healy on November 30, 2011

While you have to ask carefully if you want family-planning advice from Siri, owners of Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones may be facing other problems. According to this report in Wired, Trevor Eckhart, a security researcher in Connecticut, has found that third-party performance- and usage-monitoring software installed by default on millions of Android-based handsets sees every user action and—possibly, because I’m not sure based on the video whether this part has been demonstrated—logs and transmits it to the software maker, Carrier IQ. A video made by Eckhart (see below) shows the Carrier IQ process seeing Eckhart’s Google search of “hello world.” David Kravets’ Wired Story continues:

That’s despite Eckhart using the HTTPS version of Google which is supposed to hide searches from those who would want to spy by intercepting the traffic between a user and Google. Cringe as the video shows the software logging each number as Eckhart fingers the dialer. “Every button you press in the dialer before you call,” he says on the video, “it already gets sent off to the IQ application.” From there, the data — including the content of text messages — is sent to Carrier IQ’s servers, in secret.

This is frankly astonishing if it turns out to be true. Carrier IQ’s own website proudly announces, via a rolling counter on its front page, that it is installed on over 141 million phones. If they are logging and especially sending any data of this sort of granularity back to Carrier IQ’s servers routinely—text messages, web searches, numbers dialed—it’s hard to see how this won’t be an enormous scandal. You may recall Apple’s Locationgate scandal earlier this year, when it was found that iPhones were locally caching fairly coarse-grained location data based on cell-tower proximity (though not sending that data back to Apple). This seems orders of magnitude more severe than that—real tinfoil-hat stuff.

A Carrier IQ press release from earlier this month denies that their software is logging or transmitting keystrokes or user actions in this sort of detail:

Carrier IQ delivers Mobile Intelligence on the performance of mobile devices and networks to assist operators and device manufacturers in delivering high quality products and services to their customers. We do this by counting and measuring operational information in mobile devices – feature phones, smartphones and tablets. This information is used by our customers as a mission critical tool to improve the quality of the network, understand device issues and ultimately improve the user experience. Our software is embedded by device manufacturers along with other diagnostic tools and software prior to shipment. While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools. The metrics and tools we derive are not designed to deliver such information, nor do we have any intention of developing such tools. The information gathered by Carrier IQ is done for the exclusive use of that customer, and Carrier IQ does not sell personal subscriber information to 3 parties. The information derived from devices is encrypted and secured within our customer’s network or in our audited and customer-approved facilities.

This denial was explicitly reiterated by the company in a release retracting a cease-and-desist letter to Eckhart that it had issued in response to some of his earlier work.

The video does appears to show that, at a minimum, Carrier IQ’s software has access to the user’s searches, text messages, and other keystrokes. (Skip to 8:40 or so for the guts of the demonstration.) The real question now is determining what the application does with that sort of access—how much of the user’s behavior is actually logged, at what level of detail that logging happens, and what is subsequently transmitted anywhere. This is what’s still not clear to me from the video. Automatic third-party access to all user actions, even if there is subsequent picking-and-choosing about what to log and what to send, seems bad enough in the absence of explicit permission from the user. And of course if Carrier IQ’s software turned out to actually be transmitting much or all of what it saw—well it’s hard to see how that would be legal. So I await further developments with interest.

I copied the heading of Megan Carpentier’s original story word-for-word, because it’s hard to capture the issue better in a sentence than she did. (Tx @zephoria.)

In related news, take a look at Mike Ananny’s piece in the Atlantic last Spring about The Curious Connection Between Apps for Gay Men and Sex Offenders. Also, Ted Striphas talks more generally about the idea of “algorithmic culture” and “algorithmic literacies” here. Over a decade ago I wrote a few papers about the power of portals (remember that term?) and search engines to channel user attention, it’s fascinating- and rather disturbing at times – to watch the evolution of that issue.

Van Parijs’s book on Linguistic Justice

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 29, 2011

A few weeks ago, Philippe Van Parijs’s new book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World was released by his publisher. Since he’s coming to my university to give a lecture on the topic of the book at the end of January, I’ve set up an online reading group on this book over at my Faculty’s blog. Feel free to join – we’ll move about one chapter a week and will start with the first one next Monday, December 5th.


by Henry Farrell on November 29, 2011

Let’s imagine that we lived in an alternative universe where some of the more noxious nineteenth century pseudo-science regarding ‘inverts’ and same-sex attraction had survived into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Let us further stipulate that the editor of a nominally liberal opinion magazine “had published”: one purported effort to ‘prove’ via statistics that same-sex attraction was a form of communicable psychosis, which invariably resulted in national degeneracy when it was allowed to persist. One of this essay’s co-authors had “chased sissies”: in his youth, but claimed he had not realized that this was homophobic; he also had occasion to observe the lack of “real men”: on the streets of Paris, and to deplore the resulting sapping of virility in the French national character. His efforts, and the efforts “of”: “fellow”: “researchers”: (all of the latter funded by and/or directly involved with the “Institute for the Suppression of Homosexual Filth”: succeeded in creating a significant public controversy. Some public commentators embraced the same-sex-attraction-as-psychosis argument because they were, themselves, homophobes, others more plausibly because they were “incompetent”:, or because they enjoyed being contrarians, or both. This, despite the fact that the statistical arguments on which these extreme claims depended were “demonstrably”: bogus.

Now, let us suppose that the same editor who helped release this tide of noxious homophobia in the first place still played a significant role in American public debate, and still refused to recognize that he might, actually, be wrong on the facts. Whenever “people pointed out”: that these claims were statistically bogus, he refused to engage, instead treating “cogent statistical criticisms”: as yet another reiteration of the “left-liberal view”: While continuing to maintain that the “data” on fag-psychosis “need addressing”:, he resolutely refused to actually address the harsh statistical critiques of how this data had been analyzed, perhaps because he didn’t actually understand “these”: “critiques”: Instead, he continued to “worry”: that “political correctness” and “squeamishness” had stifled the study of whether gay people were, in fact, psychotic and could communicate their psychosis to others. This was a discussion that was “worth airing “a decade and a half ago” and it “was surely worth airing today.” Indeed, the topic was “fascinating in and of itself.” However, as the editor observed, those who sympathized with his own position found that the “chilling effect” of public disapproval, had gotten even worse, and was “playing havoc” with the careers of those interested in investigating the very important question of whether teh gay was a form of criminal insanity.

I wonder, if we lived in such a world, what Andrew Sullivan would think of that editor?

Thinking With Models

by Henry Farrell on November 29, 2011

Scott Page is offering a “free graded course”: on ‘thinking with models.’

We live in a complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena. We see political uprisings, market crashes, and a never ending array of social trends. How do we make sense of it?

Models. Evidence shows that people who think with models consistently outperform those who don’t. And, moreover people who think with lots of models outperform people who use only one.

Why do models make us better thinkers?

Models help us to better organize information – to make sense of that fire hose or hairball of data (choose your metaphor) available on the Internet. Models improve our abilities to make accurate forecasts. They help us make better decisions and adopt more effective strategies. They even can improve our ability to design institutions and procedures.

In this class, I present a starter kit of models: I start with models of tipping points. I move on to cover models explain the wisdom of crowds, models that show why some countries are rich and some are poor, and models that help unpack the strategic decisions of firm and politicians.

I really recommend this to CT readers. Scott is one of the people pioneering the study of complex systems in the social sciences. My review of his book, _The Difference_ is “here”:, and I imagine that studying with him will be a lot of fun. There are a number of other courses (listed at the bottom of the page for Scott’s course) that also look very interesting.

European Technocracy

by Henry Farrell on November 28, 2011

My review-essay of David Marquand’s book on Europe (Powells, “Amazon”: (deprecated))is up at the _Nation_ (paywalled version “here”: , unpaywalled PDF “here”: It pulls the usual US review-essay trick of being as much about the arguments of the reviewer as of the author (however, since Marquand and I agree on the major issues, it should be less annoying than it sometimes is). I use Marquand’s book to talk about the ways in which technocracy has become the EU’s default mode of policy-making, and the political problems that this creates. Paul Krugman “wrote”: a couple of weeks ago that:

bq. It’s a dubious idea to supplant democratic governance with allegedly non-political management even in the best of times. But to assign authority to unelected men whose actual record suggests that they govern based on prejudices rather than analysis is even worse.

and then went on to write a “column”: about the incompetence of the current shower of technocrats. My piece is about the other part of this argument – the sorry consequences of “supplanting democratic governance” with “allegedly non-political management.”

bq. _The End of the West_ was written before the deficit crisis (HF – it actually was finished at the beginning of the crisis – this is an editing artefact which made it through). Nonetheless, it provides a crisp and relevant analysis of the difficult choices that Europe faces. As Marquand says, the current crisis involves the “revenge of politics over economism.” Europe is caught in a “no-man’s-land between federalism and confederalism — and between democracy and technocracy.” Because they could not get the politics right, European leaders left the politics out, hoping that the usual gradual accretion of policymaking authority would provide an acceptable substitute.

bq. This was a grievous mistake. Yet the EU’s efforts to fix it have been as riddled with hedges as was the original arrangement for economic and monetary union. Europe’s richer states want the deficit problem to go away, but they are not ready to make the necessary fundamental political commitments. They have tried to obscure this lack of commitment in various ways, but the illusion is wearing thin. More hedging will not work. Markets need the certainty of politically credible guarantees if they are to be genuinely reassured. Politically credible guarantees require that European governments come clean with their citizens about the need for new arrangements.

(Thanks to Eric Rauchway for a great and apposite “Keynes quote”: which I repurposed for the review).

Stupid revealed preference arguments …

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2011

are very common among a certain class of economist. “This”: from climate-not-quite-skeptic-but-sneaking-regarder-of-same Richard Tol, is rather special, and deserves particular attention. I quote it in its entirety.

Eight academic economists have left Dublin in recent months or will leave shortly. That may seem like a small number, but there are only 200 or so academic economists in the country. They all have moved / will move to warmer places: Stirling (2.0K warmer on average than Dublin), Brighton (2.2K), Oxford (2.2K), Canberra (3.4), Melbourne (5.3K) and Lisbon (7.0K). Dublin economists thus disregard the opinion of the European Union that a climate change of 2.0K is dangerous.

Between 1998 and 2009, intra-union migration has been towards warmer places. The average migrant in the EU experienced a warming of 0.6K. The average masks a wide spread. About 10% of migrants stayed in roughly the same climate, 17% experienced a cooling of 2K or less, and 16% a cooling of more than 2K. 24% experienced a warming of less than 2K, and 33% a warming of more than 2K. 450,000 people opted to live in a climate that is more that 5K warmer than what they were used to.

Obviously, one cannot compare the individual impact of moving to a warmer climate with the impact of global warming, but at the same time it is clear that both Dublin economists specifically and intra-European migrants generally do not object to a warmer environment.

City climate data from World Guides. Country climate data from the Climate Research Unit. Migration data from EuroStat, for Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Update: In comments, Richard Tol says that the piece was intended to be tongue in cheek. He has changed the tag on the original post to say this (although he has not noted this change anywhere on the post or in comments).

Dives and Lazarus: An Economic Fairytale

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2011

bq. And so, in yet another triumph, the market mechanism has allocated a scarce resource, viz., the turkey, to its most efficient use, viz., being turned into artificial shit. What makes this the most efficient use of the scarce resource? Why, simply that it goes to the user who will pay the highest price for it.

“More here from Cosma”:

Another instalment in the new  draft chapter on Expansionary Austerity, which I’m writing for the paperback edition of Zombie Economics. Comments and criticism much appreciated

Some restrictions apply

by John Holbo on November 25, 2011

Sometimes Amazon makes me offers I find it quite easy to refuse:

Craig Calhoun is the new Director of the LSE

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2011

Here’s the announcement. A tough job. He certainly did a good job with NYU and at the SSRC, and I imagine the fact that he didn’t make his career in the UK was a relevant consideration given the state of the institution—though it’s not as if he’s a stranger to the British system, as he was trained at Manchester and Oxford. He starts next September.

Apropos of nothing, I think that the very first academic conference I attended in the U.S. as a graduate student featured Craig as a speaker. It was a small thing on culture and politics at the New School. Marshall Berman was on the panel as well. I recall asking a question that was in equal parts tendentious and underinformed, and Craig’s response was really quite polite, all things considered.

Fatalism, Polling Data and Experimental Philosophy

by John Holbo on November 24, 2011

Katherine Rampell takes note of a Pew poll result. Respondents were asked whether they agreed that ‘success in life is determined by forces outside our control’. Only 32% of Americans agreed, whereas, for example, 72% of Germans did. I suppose this question is as bad as it is by design. (Pew pollsters aren’t stupid, I think.) It’s a kind of dog whistle values question, since it’s too imprecise to be anything else. It basically says: if you had to pick one of two statements that you don’t actually believe, to say you believe, by way of signaling your attitudes about social justice and the value of hard work, which would it be – that everyone determines their own destiny %100 or 0%? (True, there might be a few considered fatalists out there, who sincerely believe the latter. But few enough that they should hardly register. And obviously no one would sincerely go for the former option, despite the fact that most Americans did.)

That’s why it’s a values question. Even so, wouldn’t it be better to conjoin this values dog whistle with some non-dog whistle questions in the topical vicinity? I mean: obviously yes. More is better. But more specifically: it would be interesting to try to determine to what extent people actually think, practically, about their own lives and those of others, in such extreme, total voluntarist-or-fatalist terms, when not dog whistled into picking one or the other extreme. To what degree, and in what cases, do people believe themselves, and others, to be in control of the course of their lives? My empirically unsupported suspicion is that people would turn out to be pretty similar in their beliefs, across partisan lines and cross-culturally, if you took care not to blow the dog whistle.

What do you think?

The prospects for the Euro

by Henry Farrell on November 23, 2011

A bloggingheads between me and “Yanis Varoufakis”: on the eurozone crisis. It’s more of an interview (of him) than a conventional dialogue. I do try to be slightly less pessimistic – he does his best to bring me down (and as it transpires, all his predictions about the Germans shooting down the Commission’s proposal for a eurobond etc were vindicated within a few hours.

U.S. Traffic Accident Fatalities, 2001-2009

by Kieran Healy on November 22, 2011

From ITO comes this very nice—and very sobering—map of road accident fatalities in the United States between 2001 and 2009. As someone who wrote a book about blood and organ donation in Europe and the United States, I’ve spent time analyzing NHTSA data on traffic accidents. I remember that, during Q&As at talks, people were often surprised to learn just how many road deaths there are in the U.S: about forty thousand per annum (though 2009 saw a very sharp drop, interestingly). Of course, people drive a great deal, too. Standardized by miles traveled, the rate is about 1.5 per 100 million vehicle miles. Still, the absolute number is striking: about two full Boeing 747s’ worth every week of the year.

You can zoom in to the precise location of every accident on the map. Each dot is a life. Drive safely this Thanksgiving.

Another instalment in the new  draft chapter on Expansionary Austerity, which I’m writing for the paperback edition of Zombie Economics. Comments and criticism much appreciated


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