Carrier IQ withdraws legal threat over mobile 'rootkit'

Carrier IQ, the software company accused of planting rootkit software on millions of mobile phones to track users' activity, has withdrawn its legal threat to the Android developer who discovered its software - and issued a rather grovelling apology.

As we reported yesterday, XDA Developer Trevor Eckhart described the previously little-known software, which is installed on millions of Android, BlackBerry and Nokia handsets, as a "rootkit" - low-level software designed to intercept and analyse activity in a comparable way to malware such as key-loggers.

Carrier IQ responded with a threatening cease-and-desist letter (PDF) claiming Eckhart was infringing copyright by reposting the company's training manuals for the software, and threatening a fine of up to $150,000.

But after Eckhart sought the legal backing of campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Carrier IQ has backed down rather sheepishly, issuing a public statement withdrawing the cease-and-desist threat and offering a rather grovelling apology - presumably in the hope that the smartphone users will forget the software's exist and not trouble themselves to ask too many more questions.

"We are withdrawing our cease and desist letter to Mr Trevor Eckhart. We have reached out to Mr. Eckhart and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to apologise," runs the statement. "Our action was misguided and we are deeply sorry for any concern or trouble that our letter may have caused Mr. Eckhart. We sincerely appreciate and respect EFF's work on his behalf, and share their commitment to protecting free speech in a rapidly changing technological world."

Welcoming what it terms a "robust discussion" of its software, Carrier IQ attempts to allay public concern raised by Eckhart's investigations by reiterating its mantra that the so-called "rootkit" analyse a mobile's performance, and does not constitute spyware.

According to the statement, the software: "Does not record your keystrokes... Does not provide tracking tools... Does not inspect or report on the content of your communications, such as the content of emails and SMSs... Does not provide real-time data reporting to any customer," and adds: "We do not sell Carrier IQ data to third parties."