NSA together with GCHQ were mining data from smartphone applications such as Angry Birds

GCHQ uses Angry Birds to spy on web users

American and British intelligence agencies have devised ways to gather data from smartphone applications such as Angry Birds to spy on Internet users, the New York Times has revealed.

According to information disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, NSA and GCHQ schemed before 2007 to exploit vast amounts of personal data leaked onto networks from modern smartphones through applications that reveal, for example, users’ locations, age or gender.  

The New York Times said the two surveillance agencies were developing ways to collect and store data from smartphone apps and traded methods for collecting location data from Google Maps users.

They were also interested in gathering address books, buddy lists, phone logs and geographic data embedded in photos when a user posts to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services.

The Times report said that although the scale of the data collection from smartphones was not clear, the Snowden documents showed that the two agencies were using those strategies rather routinely and since the earliest days of smartphone apps.

The documents did not say how many users were affected or whether they included Americans.

"To the extent data is collected by the NSA through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets, and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, maintaining that surveillance was solely focused on "valid foreign intelligence targets ... I mean terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors (who) use the same communications tools that others use," he said.

Edward Snowden, who leaked the secret documents to international media last year is now living in asylum in Russian and faces espionage charges in the United States.

His revelations and the resulting firestorm of criticism from politicians and privacy rights activists prompted US President Barack Obama to announce intelligence-gather reforms on 17 January, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of close allies and limits on the collection of telephone data.

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