How to create a PR disaster, by Carrier IQ

Unless you were buried under a rock for the whole of last week, you can’t have escaped the news about Carrier IQ.

In a nutshell, researchers have found that Carrier IQ, a software tool used to report mobile device usage patterns back to carriers to improve service, was actually logging sensitive information like keystrokes, text messages and the browsing activity of users and sending it back to their servers. Trevor Eckhart’s YouTube video showing his device being tracked has now had nearly 2 million views.

Cue TechCrunch, Mashable and the rest of the technology media to cover the story – following it on Twitter alone was a task in itself. Even the US government got involved – a letter was sent to the Carrier IQ CEO by Al Franken, head of the Senate committee on Privacy, Technology and the Law amid threats of imminent legal action.

There have been an insane amount of articles posted on the blogosphere and main news outlets detailing what Carrier IQ does and how to remove their software from your phone. The uproar has forced the major carriers and clients of Carrier IQ, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to come out and admit their use of the software but deny any major infractions and do their own version of damage control.

And then comes a Carrier IQ response…think again. Over a week before a response came, denying the tracking of users activity.

A big fall from grace for a company once lauded by the Wall Street Journal and ranked #9 in their “Next Big Thing 2011” list of Venture Funded companies. Until now, there’s been no evidence of any compromised data and no stories of misuse of the data and the carriers themselves vigorously deny that they have any access to personal data through Carrier IQ’s services.

So why such a fierce and swift response?

Privacy.

Even the slightest hint that it has been infringed sends people into a state of panic. People don’t like to feel like they’re being watched, tracked or monitored. Remember the Apple tracking scandal back in April? The lesson? Don’t mess with privacy. The driving force behind their angst was the simple fact that they weren’t notified of Carrier IQ’s existence on their phones. Unbeknownst to them it was sending data on their activities to a third party and they feel violated, exposed and rightly so.

The lesson to be learned from the Carrier IQ scandal is not just “honesty is the best policy”, it’s about reacting to a situation. There is no smoke without fire, especially you don’t even bother to try and douse it with water. Leaving it week to respond to claims so serious as privacy infringement is a seriously bad tactic. Companies should be upfront about the data they’re collecting and what they plan to do with it, to avoid the type of fall out and PR disaster that’s currently engulfing Carrier IQ.

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About MUSTARD PR

We’re a savvy boutique team of brand and communication consultants working across consumer and B2B markets. We deliver strategic and creative PR campaigns that get our clients noticed no matter who they are – from start-ups to major global corporations.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in PR, tech and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You are absolutely right that “even the slightest hint that it has been infringed sends people into a state of panic.” It doesn’t matter whether the rumor is founded, just that the rumor is out-of-control.

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