There were only three main topics of discussion this week but, boy, were they some intense subjects. Our coverage began with the Galaxy Nexus and we have plenty of it - an unboxing, a first impressions article, an HD video sample, a gallery, and a video review. I'm sure we'll have some Dogfights before long. We covered all of this during the show and talked about Aaron's thoughts on what is easily one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Android phone of the year.
Next came the drama. There was drama between AT&T and the FCC and then there was drama with Carrier IQ. Things have been quiet around the AT&T/T-Mobile merger story, aside from small quotes being dropped here and there. And then a bomb was dropped. The FCC released a scathing report about the merger that caught AT&T off guard. AT&T quickly responded with its own harsh words, calling out the FCC for supposedly being "one-sided". Check out the headlines below for a quick recap of what led up to this. Next, we moved on to Carrier IQ, today's Big Brother. We're always hearing of someone else "spying" on us and this week it was Carrier IQ. What is it? Should you be worried about it? We talked about those topics during the show. We ended the show with an open Q&A.
I've constantly gone back and forth on how I feel about AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile. That may sound crazy to some of you. It seems simple: Merging would get rid of a competing company which would lessen competition therefore stifling innovation and driving up costs while putting several people out of a job. (At least that's the hypothesis.) The obvious thing to do would be to stand against the merger. However, I have a hard time deciding who to believe. I read such quotes as, “It is troubling that critics – particularly those with little if any business experience – are so certain that even with no obvious source of additional spectrum suitable for LTE coming from the government any time soon, and even with exponential growth in broadband (including mobile) data use, AT&T’s current spectrum holdings are sufficient to satisfy its business plans” from knowledgeable writers who are defending AT&T and hear of sworn statements from both AT&T and T-Mobile regarding their spectrum shortage and I think, "Well, I guess they need more spectrum." And then I hear reports that 'AT&T already has enough spectrum' and 'they're just being greedy' from people who are against the merger. I read the FCC's scathing report on the proposition and see how the commission breaks down every single argument that has been presented and shows how illogical it is and then I read AT&T's rebuttal that quotes several of the FCC's own studies and makes a pretty convincing argument. It may sound simple but it seems so complex.
I don't know if AT&T is hoarding spectrum. I don't know if T-Mobile has no chance without AT&T. I don't know if AT&T has no chance without T-Mobile. I don't know if getting rid of T-Mobile will drive up prices. You know why I don't know? Because both sides are saying something different and they both make their argument sound so logical.
And then I read a small paragraph from page nine of the FCC's report explaining its stance on the matter. The paragraph reads:
Here is the key. While the FCC may not be able to prove without a doubt that the merger would eliminate competition and negatively affect the market, it doesn't have to. The burden of proof does not lie with the FCC, it lies with AT&T. It is AT&T's responsibility to prove that the merger will not have a negative affect on the market. In short, the FCC does not feel that AT&T has been able to do that.
For people like me who can't decide if the merger would increase quality and service or would diminish it, this fact does a lot to clear out the mess. There may be a lot of speculation out there, but the only things that matter are the sure-fire facts based on evidence. It is AT&T's responsibility to prove that the merger won't eliminate jobs, won't eliminate competition, won't drive up prices, and won't lower customer service quality, not the FCC's to prove otherwise. Perhaps the FCC did include speculative statements in the report, as AT&T claims. That doesn't matter. Until AT&T can prove them wrong, their "speculation" is fact.
No one wants to find out that someone has been spying on them without their knowledge. Even if that person says they have pure intentions, the fact that they did it in the shadow of secrecy kind of makes you wonder if they're telling the truth. Sure, Carrier IQ says it's not using the information it records from our phones for anything wrong, and maybe it's not, but why weren't we told about this? I'm all for the carriers doing what they need to do in order to improve my experience and create devices that cater to our needs and wants. I generally opt-in when I buy software that asks if I would like to send reports to their server so they can use it for research. But that's the point right there: I know about it and I give the 'OK'. Seemingly no one knew about Carrier IQ much less knew if there was a way to opt-in or opt-out of the "service".
First of all, the people we should be upset with is the carriers, not Carrier IQ. After all, they're the ones using the service, they're the ones who log all of the data, and they're the ones who didn't tell us. Again, it seems like they're using this data for good reasons, but if that's the case, couldn't they have just let us know what was going on?
Secondly, should we even be upset about this? Well, that's really a matter of opinion or perspective. I won't blame anyone for feeling violated. However, it's best to get a clear understanding of exactly what's going on here. Carrier IQ is not simply recording every keystroke, every text message, every call, and so on. Instead, according to Carrier IQ, while those things are being "listened to", the reason for this is to search for certain sequences that trigger a cue to send certain diagnostics to the carrier. Every keystroke, text message, phone call, and other information is available but only data that is requested by the carriers is actually logged and then sent to the carrier. Says Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ's VP of marketing, “If there’s a dropped call, the carriers want to know about it. So we record where you were when the call dropped, and the location of the tower being used. … Similarly, if you send an SMS to me and it doesn't go through, the carriers want to know that, too. And they want to know why — if it’s a problem with your handset or the network.” Makes sense, right?
Still, why didn't we know about this? HTC claims that there is an opt-in option for this when setting up your phone, but I don't think it's ever been clearly defined as this. And that's just HTC. What about the other manufacturers and the carriers? A simple, clear, and informative opt-in feature would have easily kept this from blowing up into the problem it is now. As another blogger brought out, "Executed properly, Carrier IQ has the potential to improve the quality of service for millions of mobile customers -- provided that the data collected stays on the up-and-up." Yes, this service is great, as long as it's regulated, we know about it, it's not breaking any laws, and we have the option to opt-out.