Both the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, have figured out how to spy on personal data transmitted from Angry Birds and other smartphone apps they call “leaky,” according to a joint report from ProPublica, The New York Times, and The Guardian based on classified British intelligence documents provided by—who else—Edward Snowden.
Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds, said in a written statement that it does not “collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world” and that the data is likely being swiped from the advertising agencies it and millions of websites and mobile apps have partnered with. According to the ProPublica report, the advertising services in apps like Angry Birds collect all sorts of personal information from a phone and use it to create “profiles” that agencies use to zero in on what kind of ads to send a user. In addition to age, location, and sex, some profiles go so far as to guess at a user’s sexual orientation, marital status, and political affiliations. All of this information can be snatched up by spy agencies once it’s transmitted from a phone back to the advertising firm.
The report also outlines how intelligence agencies can scrub a phone’s contacts, phone logs, and location data that have been embedded in photos as they’re uploaded to services like Twitter and Facebook, and how Google Maps is a spy agency favorite. The Guardian report quotes a 2008 British intelligence document as saying the effort to collect location and planning data from Google Maps was so successful that it “effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a [Government Communications Headquarters] system.” Responding to ProPublica, the NSA said these techniques are not used to gather the personal information of Americans or innocent foreigners, so don’t worry. It’s probably only being used to nail criminals who are dumb enough to use Google Maps from their phone and really love Angry Birds.