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Can Carrier IQ's new Chief Privacy Officer build a 'culture of privacy'?

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Carrier IQ is no stranger to privacy issues in the mobile space after last November's discovery that its software was being improperly logged by HTC and the subsequent fallout. Today, the company announced that it has hired on a new "Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel," Magnolia Mobley. We sat down with Mobley and Carrier IQ's Andrew Coward to discuss her new role in the company and where Carrier IQ is going now that it has a much more public face than before.

carrier iq door 1020
carrier iq door 1020

Carrier IQ is no stranger to privacy issues after last November's discovery that its software was being improperly logged by HTC — the company quickly became a flashpoint for controversy, even though it worked with nearly every company in mobile from Apple to Sprint to Samsung. Today, the company is taking steps to rebuild its reputation, starting with the announced that it's hired a new Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel named Magnolia Mobley. We sat down with Mobley and Carrier IQ's Andrew Coward to discuss her new role in the company and where Carrier IQ future now that it's more public than ever before.

Mobley comes to Carrier IQ from Verizon, where spent much of her time as the carrier's Lead Privacy Counsel. Her goal at Carrier IQ is to instill a "culture of privacy," so that privacy isn't "something that happens down the hall in the lawyer's office." That would apply to everybody from the engineers on up within the company. Carrier IQ actually believes that it currently already has the right privacy policies in place with regard to its products; it just wants to ensure that everybody within the company is involved and aware of what those policies are.

Carrier IQ's main customers are still the carriers and manufacturers, not end users. In that regard, Mobley is primarily concerned that they understand "how our technology enables privacy." Again, the company believes it's more about communicating what it's already doing than radically changing how its current technology works. The goal is "privacy by design" where "you don't think of it as an afterthought, you build it in."

The goal is "privacy by design"We asked specifically if Carrier IQ had decided to take more control over privacy — right now the company allows carriers to decide when and how to make privacy disclosures, since they have the primary relationship with the customer. The company said that it allows the carriers to make those decisions because they are already so sensitive to privacy issues. "I quite frankly would be shocked if one of our customers said 'Yeah, [privacy disclosure] is nice but we don't really care about that.'"

"We will not be prescriptive," Coward told us. Mobley agreed, noting that it's a "huge ecosystem" that doesn't have consistent rules or even consistent consumer expectations. "Everyone falls in different layers, and different people and different organization learn those [privacy] lessons in different ways."

Carrier IQ insists that it has not lost any "carrier customers" since last year's drama, however it did admit that it's still in negotiations with Sprint after that carrier very publicly "disabled use" of Carrier IQ's software. Carrier IQ also lost Apple as a manufacturing customer, although that apparently happened well before Carrier IQ became a household name.

"We're looking forward to telling our story publicly."

In addition to internal training and dealing with carrier customers, Mobley will also be in Washington D.C. to be "in the conversation" about proposed privacy regulations. "We're looking forward to telling our story publicly," she said, noting that while Carrier IQ won't have a team of lobbyists, the company already has a high profile so its "voice will be at the table."

Mobley will also be involved in a pending class-action lawsuit, as Carrier IQ's General Counsel, and she says she is "looking forward" to defending Carrier IQ and the pending litigation is "essentially without merit."

Finally, Carrier IQ hasn't yet launched the consumer information portal we first saw at Mobile World Congress. Andrew Coward says that it is still in discussions with carriers around "consumer empowerment," which is shorthand for carriers working out just how much information they want to present to consumers and in what way they want to show it. For example, a carrier may not want to precisely show the exact location where dropped calls may occur, but it could perhaps show a more general graph letting the consumer know if their dropped call rate is above or below average. Once again, the issue will come down to the difficult balance between customer disclosure and carrier advantage.

Carrier IQ has felt that it hasn't gotten a fair shake in the privacy drama that unfolded last November and December, so bringing on a high-profile lawyer like Mobley may go some way to helping the company change the conversation. Yet the fact that the company feels it still needs to instill a "culture of privacy" six months after it became headline news for that very issue does give one pause. It may not have technically lost any carrier partners yet, but Mobley and the rest of the company will have its work hard to make sure it doesn't in the future.