In 2013, one of the biggest talking points was the NSA’s seemingly blatant disregard for anyone’s privacy. And it’s not set to stop this year. Today, in reports published by The New York Times and The Guardian, Edward Snowden revealed further information on how the NSA and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarter) have been dragging in information from “leaky apps” like Angry Birds, Google Maps and other mobile apps with photo and location sharing ability. Apps like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are particularly popular among those.
Of course, we’ve known that these government agencies are collecting data for a while. But we didn’t know just how far-reaching it is. NSA and Britain’s GCHQ have partnered in an initiative known as “the mobile surge” which essentially creates a wide-reaching net to “sweep” phone data for text messages and pieces of metadata.
As reported by NYT:
Since then, the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services.
Because devices are constantly connected, there are opportunities to grab data from almost any apps. Updating Android software – for instance – results in phone users uploading up to 500 lines of collectable and usable data. The worrying part is when it comes to really popular mobile apps. Angry Birds has been downloaded over 1 billion times, and its developers have been working with a company called Millenial Media to embed ads that enable the app to “generate user profiles.” Data is restricted, and is only collected by those companies for anyone above 12 years old.
Now, while most of that data – on its own – doesn’t reveal anything particularly private, when combined with other information (location/social media updates), it helps the NSA and GCHQ to put together a more full profile.
It is worth noting that Rovio have never agreed to share information with the NSA, and on hearing today’s reports stated that it “doesn’t have previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks”. Snowden’s report doesn’t even approach the subject, and it would seem that this information is being collected without the developers and service providers being aware of it.
To read the report in more detail head on over to the following articles: