The documents leaked by Edward Snowden continue to rain revelations, the latest being that government intelligence agencies use Angry Birds and other popular apps in their spying and data collection efforts.
The popular birdbrain smartphone game is apparently "leaky" in that it inadvertently broadcasts users’ data. The NSA and its UK counterpart the GCHQ are reportedly all too keen to advantage of that.
The data can include anything from phone specs to sensitive information like a user’s age, sexual orientation, gender, political leanings, and more, according to reports from The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica.
The data is collected and transmitted for "commercial" purposes, presumably related to ads, but the NSA and GCHQ "piggyback" on these apps to collect the info as part of their widespread global data collection efforts, the reports said.
No wonder they’re angry
Angry Birds is not alone in this, either; Facebook and Twitter are also named in these reports, as well as Millenial Media, an ad platform that has partnered with big game companies like Angry Birds developer Rovio, Call of Duty maker Activision, and FarmVille developer Zynga.
And although apps like Twitter and Facebook may delete location data and other metadata from photos and posts before they’re published on the social networks, that information may briefly be available during the uploading process.
So depending on when during the process the metadata is discarded and when the government agencies intercept the item being uploaded, that information may still be available.
Google Maps is apparently a major source of information for these agencies as well, as they can piece together large swathes of location data from users’ search and directions queries.
Sworn to protect
This just-revealed data collection differs from the spying we knew about previously in that these reports claim the NSA and GCHQ are collecting data from smartphone apps in addition to calls and texts, data sources that were previously revealed.
The NSA said in a statement that it doesn’t target individual US citizens with its phone data collection practices, and that protections exist for citizens who are incidentally targeted as well as for foreigners who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.
For its part, Rovio said it has no knowledge of data collection or spying activities on the part of the NSA or GCHQ, no idea whether ad networks like Millenial Media are complicit in these activities, and no involvement whatsoever with these agencies or their surveillance programs.
Both the NSA and the GCHQ stressed that all programs operate within the letter of the law, and the NSA further claimed that revealing them to the public in this manner "is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies – and places at risk those we are sworn to protect."
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