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Snowden papers reveal even Angry Birds is monitored by the NSA

Updated Latest leaked papers ruffle more feathers
Tue Jan 28 2014, 11:24

POPULAR GAMING FRANCHISE Angry Birds features in the latest revelations from US communications surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The latest document published by The Guardian shows that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been harvesting data from mobile phone apps ranging from instant messaging chat histories to what level of Angry Birds users are on.

In the UK, GCHQ has worked with the NSA since 2007 on mobile phone surveillance methods and even published a paper in 2012 explaining how to harvest Angry Birds user data.

Data from social network apps theoretically is stripped of metadata once it has been uploaded, but it is possible to harvest during the upload process. Some of the data being harvested is said to include age, sex and sexual orientation, citing an example of whether the user is into swinging.

Gary Partington, CEO of Apadmi, an app developer whose work includes apps for the BBC, BT, The X Factor and Aviva Insurance said, "It does make sense for some apps to have access to certain elements of users' data, but in most cases there is absolutely no need for apps to collect masses of private user information.

"Apps and the developers that do this are exposing users' data unnecessarily, causing real concerns over privacy - as today's news shows."

His advice to app developers was simple. He said, "We advise our customers to only access the information that they need, and make it very clear to the user what information is being collected and how this will be used so that users can make informed choices."

As you would expect, details are scant as to the scale of the data harvested, but Rovio said that it has no direct dealings with GCHQ or the NSA.

Meanwhile, the NSA said in a statement, "The communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets are not of interest to the National Security Agency.... Any implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true.

"Moreover, NSA does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission. We collect only those communications that we are authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes - regardless of the technical means used by the targets."

Despite the NSA's somewhat indignant response, we can't imagine how national security services could possibly benefit from knowing a terrorist's Angry Birds score. We say people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw birds at pigs.

Rovio has addressed reports, saying that it does not share user data with the NSA. Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Entertainment said, "Our fans’ trust is the most important thing for us and we take privacy extremely seriously.

"We do not collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world. As the alleged surveillance might be happening through third party advertising networks, the most important conversation to be had is how to ensure user privacy is protected while preventing the negative impact on the whole advertising industry and the countless mobile apps that rely on ad networks

"In order to protect our end users, we will, like all other companies using third party advertising networks, have to re-evaluate working with these networks if they are being used for spying purposes." µ


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