The NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ are able to use some of the most popular smartphone apps in the world to obtain personal user information, suggests recently leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Of particular note is the mention of the popular smartphone game Angry Birds. The game, which has been downloaded 1.7 billion times worldwide, is dubbed a “leaky app” by the agencies. Such apps, especially if running on the popular Android operating system, are able to provide US and British officials with information including the phone’s settings, which websites the phone had visited and which documents it had downloaded.
The documents also included a 14 page slideshow developed by NSA officials. The slideshow mentioned popular apps that link to social networking site Facebook and the photo upload site Flickr. Photos uploaded to these sites could allow the two agencies to mine mobile devices for information including sexual orientation and political alignment as well as location data of where the photo was taken.
Such information is often scrubbed from uploads before final publication. Depending on where the information is removed during the upload process it may still be acquired by the NSA or GCHQ.
Angry Birds publisher Rovio has denied any cooperation with the government agencies.
"Rovio doesn't have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks," said Saara Bergstrom, Rovio's VP of marketing and communications.
Aother revelation of the leak is the vast amount of information available concerning users who use the ubiquitous Google Maps. Monitoring of information from that app "effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system," one 2008 document from the British eavesdropping agency is quoted as saying.
The Obama administration is seeking to alleviate concerns of US citizens amidst the new revelations.
"As the president said in his Jan. 17 speech, to the extent data is collected by the NSA, through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney at a Monday press conference.