Last week's big technology story was that of Carrier IQ, a company whose software was revealed to be on many cell phones. That software records a large variety of specific information about how those phones are used, including capturing keystrokes. There are differing reports over whether the software records keystrokes in text messaging mode or only in dialing mode.
Researcher Trevor Eckhart demonstrated the broad array of information being captured by Carrier IQ. What is less clear is how much of that information is actually being transmitted back to the cell phone carriers and what, if anything, they're doing with it.
Class action lawsuits have now been filed against Carrier IQ and handset manufacturers accusing them of violating federal wiretapping laws.
By the end of last week, a lot of tech commentators pointed out that there are legitimate uses for much of this information. ("Carrier IQ is Misunderstood, Not Evil," read the headline on an opinion piece by Lance Ulanoff at mashable.com.) For example, cell phone companies need to know about how their system is being used so that they can plan for how much capacity to maintain.
However, Carrier IQ didn't help its case by immediately threatening legal action against Eckhart. Assuming for a moment that everything Carrier IQ does is legal, ethical and above-board, the company -- which isn't used to dealing directly with consumers or being in the public spotlight -- could have been just overreacting. But that overreaction (which at least one commentator called "draconian") didn't do much to reassure the public about the nature and intent of what's going on.
Carriers fell over themselves trying to assure the public that the information was only used in summary -- no one at the carrier, they say, is looking over your individual business, only at the totals or averages or trends of what customers (or subgroups of customers) do as a whole.
Tom Merritt on the netcast "Tech News Today" has said that he understands why this information is being collected and isn't too alarmed by it. After all, your private phone conversations already pass through the phone company's network. If the phone company wanted to illegally eavesdrop on you, it could probably do so on its own end of the connection, without the benefit of Carrier IQ. But Merritt said the carriers should at the very least have informed their customers what was going on and given them the ability to opt out of the Carrier IQ software.
I try to remind you about this time every year about the wonderful NORAD Santa web site, noradsanta.org. On Christmas Eve night, you can use this site to track Santa's progress as he makes his deliveries around the world. But if you wait until that night to go to the site, you're missing a lot. Go to the "Countodwn Village" section of the site for a new holiday-themed game or activity each day, and other sections of the site have a lot of background information about Santa and the holidays.
It was in 1955 that a Colorado Springs, Colo., Sears store published a newspaper ad promoting a line that children could call to hear a message from Santa. But the ad contained a typo, and instead the number published was that for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), based in Colorado Springs. When Col. Harry Shoup began fielding the calls, he started passing along information from CONAD's radar tracking stations about Santa's whereabouts. From that point forward, CONAD, which later became NORAD, tracked Santa each Christmas. For the Internet age, the telephone line was replaced by a website, including videos and integration with Google Earth. Various corporate sponsors help pick up the cost.
It's a wonderful holiday tradition for children of all ages.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.