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Would You Let Somebody Monitor Your BlackBerry Usage?

usage_pattern A PhD Candidate from the University of Waterloo, Earl Oliver, is trying to conduct a study detailing how users interact with their BlackBerrys. He is asking BlackBerry users to sign up and load an application on their BlackBerry that runs a background process that records when you are using your BlackBerry device.

While I am curious to see what such a study would reveal this just raises numerous questions that would steer me well away from participating. The applications records when your BlackBerry is charging or the screen is off to tell when you are using it. It then periodically uploads logs that contain anonymous usage information.

Oliver claims that the study has the approval from the Office of Research Ethics in the University of Waterloo (+1 519-888-4567 ext. 36005) but still would you ever willingly install what amounts to spyware on your BlackBerry? I know I wont… Who knows what other information you are giving him access to that you cannot control once you install such an app.

With my stern warning in mind you can check out the details at this link or the threads mentioning it on the official support forums and BlackBerry forums.

13 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. hmm, i have no problem with this at all and will do my part to support this student’s research.

  2. lulz

  3. That is a very serious concern. Because RIM themselves don’t monitor any of that. Right? RIGHT?

  4. As a Waterloo grad I want to help support this guy in his research, but I just can’t bring myself to disagree with Ronen’s concerns. Sorry fellow Waterloo Warrior…

  5. Hello,
    As the researcher in question, I can appreciate the concerns raised by Ronen. Gaining the trust of participants is always a difficult problem when conducting any time of real-world usability study.

    All that my logger collects is the time that the device\’s screen turns on/off, and when the device is plugged in for charging. I do not record personal information about the user or have any record of who participated in the study.

    Several participants have asked for the source code. It is available here:

    I appreciate any support that I can get for this research, and will of course share the results on my website and through publications on this work.

    Earl Oliver

    • Earl,
      That was a great idea to provide the source code. You might also be well served if you nicely ask one of the trusted BlackBerry developers to look over the code and certify that there is nothing malicious going on. Then host it in a place where the files will not be changed until they are reviewed again. I am a bit paranoid about security but then I would consider installing it.
      All the best,

  6. This is actually very interesting. People spend too much of their lives thumbing away on their crackberries.

    The source code appears to be completely benign. I would support this research!

  7. I am also a researcher and sometimes it is necessary to run that kind of experiments to get some interesting data. We usually ask for volunteers to participate and the data is anonymised in order to be studied so I don’t see any problem on that.

  8. I support this, I think it could produce some very interesting results. I am actually looking forward to results of this research. As long as the participants are aware I think this has potential for some interesting findings.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback. Surprisingly, asking the BlackBerry community for help has turned out well. I’ve got a lot of downloads of my logger despite the concerns raised by this article and by some forum readers.


  9. There isn’t anything suspicious in the source code. If source code is provided, I don’t see why people should have a problem with supporting this kind of research. For those who are hyper-paranoid, they can generate the binary themselves.
    I have installed the logger myself and am interested in seeing my usage pattern over a period of time.

    • Thanks techsavy,
      Of course, you’ll be able to view your own usage pattern within the application itself. You can also join the mailing list on my website for updates. Sharing aggregate datasets is a pretty common practice in academia, which I plan to continue.


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