It sounds far-fetched when someone says that playing something as innocent as Angry Birds is helping spy agencies gather information about you, but that is just what happens when users launch what this Pro Publica investigation claims is a "leaky app."
According to the report published in both Pro Publica and the New York Times, users who load "leaky apps" (apps that have vulnerabilities that are exploitable by spy agencies in the UK and the U.S), spies are able to gather data about you and your phone such as your location, age, sex, and other personal information. This news comes from secret British intelligence documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The documents were "previously undisclosed" until this report was filed.
The article points out that smartphones and supposed leaky apps make it very easy for spy agencies to gather information about everyday people. Much of this information is obtained through cookies created by ad companies such as Millennial Media. They created user profiles that gather information on ethnicity, marital status, and sexual orientation. The report notes that the categories for marital status included single, married, divorced, engaged, and "swinger." Categories for sexual orientation included straight, gay, bisexual, and "not sure." All of this information is being collected by spy agencies according to the document written in 2010, and they agencies are collecting so much information that's it is practically unmanageable, according to the report.
When asked for comment the National Security Agency told Pro Publica the following:
"N.S.A. does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission," the agency said in a written response to questions about the program. "Because some data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in N.S.A.'s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process." Similar protections, the agency claimed, are in place for "innocent foreign citizens."
We've reached out to Angry Birds maker Rovio to ask them if they are aware that their app might have vulnerabilities being manipulated by spy agencies around the world. The company has not responded as of this writing.
You can check out Pro Publica's detailed report here.