Sling an “Angry Bird” at the precisely correct angle on your touchscreen phone, and the last thing that will probably come to mind is that you’re being spied on.
But newly-disclosed intelligence documents may force you to think again.
Popular game applications are now being targeted by the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, to grab personal information about smartphone users.
When a user opens up a popular game, the spy agencies are reportedly able to access data “revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information,” according to secret British intelligence documents co-released by The New York Times and the Guardian on Tuesday.
The dozens of classified documents were provided to the newspapers by whistleblower Edward Snowden and detail the NSA and GCHQ efforts to piggyback on this commercial data collection for their own purposes.
“In their globe-spanning surveillance for terrorism suspects and other targets, the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have been trying to exploit a basic by-product of modern telecommunications,” the Guardian reported.
The documents state that some apps on iPhones and Android smartphones can share users' most sensitive information such as sexual orientation.
“Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts,” the Guardian reported.
A January poll for the Washington Post showed 69% of U.S. adults were already concerned about how tech companies such as Google used and stored their information.
While the latest revelations could add to surging public concern over the spy agencies’ technological grip on personal data, U.S. president, Barack Obama, suggested laws and minimization procedures may be subject to reform in a speech earlier this month.
“But the president focused largely on the NSA's collection of the metadata from U.S. phone calls and made no mention in his address of the large amounts of data the agency collects from smartphone apps,” the Guardian reported.