Is your smartphone playing Big Brother?

A developer in America seems to have found something interesting about a few smartphones, with a piece of software pre-installed on some of them able to record details of much of what you’re doing.

Discovered last week by Android developer Trevor Eckhart, the software comes preinstalled on a variety of phones and runs underneath everything, logging much of what runs on your device, including web searches, phone calls, and text messages.

This software is called “Carrier IQ” and was originally designed to log information useful to telcos, such as when calls were dropped, connections were bad, and so on.

But apparently manufacturers may have actually modified the service to make it Carrier IQ more useful, such as tracking phone calls, locations, and web browser information, running underneath everything you do without any way of turning it off.

Eckhart has gone into extensive detail about his findings, and the information is very interesting, hinting that both HTC and Samsung are using modified versions to log information which may well be personal.

With the news of this, HTC sent out a comment to state its position on the matter:

“Carrier IQ is a device requirement of a number of U.S carriers, so we encourage consumers or media to contact Carrier IQ or their respective carriers with any questions about the practices relating to, or data collected by, Carrier IQ.

HTC is not a customer or partner of Carrier IQ and does not receive data from the company, its application or carriers who partner with CarrierIQ. HTC is investigating the option to allow consumers to opt-out of the application.”

We’re particularly interested in HTC’s line about Carrier IQ being “a device requirement of a number of U.S carriers,” leading us to believe it could be in more phones than just the ones we’ve heard about. As a result, we’ve contacted numerous manufacturers – including Apple – to see if their handsets contain the software.

So far, we’ve found one Australian HTC handset with “HTC Loggers” on it, though we’re currently testing others. This logger is also running, despite being opted out of HTC’s usage and errors application, HTC Tell.

At the moment, we’re not actually sure how this affects Australian handsets. With Carrier IQ being a requirement of American carriers, it’s entirely possible that most local handsets lack the software altogether, which would be a very good thing.

We’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE (December 2, 2011): Manufacturers and telcos have spoken up, and the answer to “Is your smartphone playing Big Brother?” is “no”.