Sprint admits receiving Carrier IQ data but says it’s not spying

Carrier IQ supplies Sprint(s S) generalized data about how its customers’ smartphones perform on its network, but Sprint does not snoop into the private contents of those phones, Sprint said on Tuesday. While Sprint is primarily using that information to optimize both its network and how phones behave on it, the operator isn’t – and technically incapable of — tracking or viewing the contents of any message or media in the device, Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge said in an email. Here’s her full statement:

“Carrier IQ provides information that allows Sprint, and other carriers that use it, to analyze our network performance and identify where we should be improving service.  We also use the data to understand device performance so we can figure out when issues are occurring. We collect enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network and how to address any connection problems, but we do not and cannot look at the contents of messages, photos, videos, etc., using this tool. The information collected is not sold and we don’t provide a direct feed of this data to anyone outside of Sprint.

“Sprint is well known for our serious commitment to respecting and protecting the privacy and security of each customer’s personally identifiable information and other customer data. A key element of this involves communicating with our customers about our information privacy practices. The Sprint privacy policy makes it clear we collect information that includes how a device is functioning and how it is being used. Carrier IQ is an integral part of the Sprint service.  Sprint uses Carrier IQ to help maintain our network performance.”

Sprint, like many of its operator brethren, is in the firing line as a new research from Android(s GOOG) developer Trevor Eckhart discovered what he termed a “rootkit” buried in the guts of many Android phones. The Carrier IQ software tracks every keystroke in on the phones it is installed on, recording that information for Carrier IQ’s analytics purposes. It’s not clear if the information collected goes directly to the operators, handset makers or to Carrier IQ. But the applications cannot be disabled or uninstalled, and there’s no way opt out of its recording activities. (Kevin Tofel wrote earlier about how to detect Carrier IQ in your phone).

Verizon Wireless(s VZ)(s VOD) emphatically stated that it does not use Carrier IQ data and that the application is not installed in any of its smartphones. Other carriers and both Google and Nokia have made similar statements about not using Carrier IQ data, though it’s still unclear if the root app still resides in their customers’ devices. We’re still waiting to hear from the rest of the U.S. operators.