The NSA Can Reportedly Gobble Up User Data From Angry Birds

A joint report between the New York Times and ProPublica claims that U.S. and British spy agencies can gather user data through mobile apps.

The NSA Can Reportedly Gobble Up User Data From Angry Birds
[Image: Flickr user Oran Viriyincy]

The National Security Agency has already demonstrated that it is willing to go to comical lengths to collect data from targets, even if that means lacing up hydra armor to spy on potential threats in World of Warcraft. Now, a new batch of documents suggest its surveillance capabilities aren’t just limited to desktop platforms: The NSA and its British counterpart reportedly have the ability to hoover up mobile data from titles like Angry Birds, too.

In a joint report between the New York Times and ProPublica, a top secret 2012 British intelligence document asserts that “spies can scrub smartphone apps that contain details like a user’s ‘political alignment’ and sexual orientation”–including games. The investigation indicates the “so-called leaky apps” present an area ripe for exploitation by spy agencies, since they are capable of quietly siphoning up user data in the background–stuff like location data, age, and gender–to deliver targeted advertising through third-party networks.

One of those companies in question, Millennial Media, began working with Rovio–the company behind Angry Birds–in 2011 to embed advertisement in iOS and Android versions of the game, which has been downloaded more than a billion times worldwide. A Rovio spokesperson told the Times that the company had no knowledge of any government snooping. In a statement sent out to the press Tuesday morning, Rovio says, “We do not collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world.”

Whether or not these government agencies have actually extracted marketing data is unclear; the reports simply illustrated that they have the ability to do so. The investigation comes just weeks after President Obama announced plans to rein in the NSA’s surveillance programs following the recommendations of an independent review panel. Among those directives is an initiative laying out that the U.S. does not use international intelligence “for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary people.”

About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.