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Reports: NSA Pries Info From 'Angry Birds," Other Apps

8:42 PM, Jan 27, 2014   |    comments
Photo: AP
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Michael Winter, USA TODAY

U.S. and British spy agencies have been exploiting "Angry Birds" and other so-called leaky smartphone apps to collect users' personal information, including sexual orientation and preferences, according to documents taken by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

The agencies have also snagged address books, buddy lists and phone logs, and swiped location information from Google Maps when photos are posted to social media sites.

Since 2007, the National Security Agency and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters have been siphoning details provided by users or transmitted by their phones, the previously secret files published Monday by the Guardian, The New York Timesand ProPublica revealed.

The Guardian writes that depending on the particular "profile information" a user supplied, "the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user's life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, martial status - options included 'single,' 'married.' 'divorced,' 'swinger' and more - income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children."

Previous files passed by Snowden to news outlets revealed the spy agencies' intelligence collection on mobile phone networks, but the latest batch offers "far more details of their ambitions for smartphones and the apps that run on them," the Times writes.

One British document included a slide for a top-secret 2010 talk that described the "Golden Nugget!":

"Perfect Scenario -- Target uploading photo to a social media site with a mobile device. What can we get?"

The iPhone and Android phones were identified as treasure troves of data.

Some apps transmit limited information that identifies a handset's model, ID number and software version.

The maker of "Angry Birds," Rovio, told the Guardian it was unaware of the spy agencies efforts to collect personal information from its users.

The mobile-ad platform Millennial Media was cited as offering "particularly rich information" because of a special edition of "Angry Birds" and collaborations with "Farmville" maker Zynga, "Call of Duty" developer Activision and other big-name content developers.

The NSA has said that it does not target Americans and that any data collected from mass surveillance is inadvertent. The agency maintains that it is focused only on "valid foreign intelligence targets."

Earlier this month, President Obama announced new NSA restrictions intended to protect the privacy of Americans and the personal communications of friendly foreign leaders. The safeguards apparently do not pertain to the wealth of personal data obtained from leaky apps.

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