A new report originating from the ongoing Snowden document trove presents the terrifying possibility that our casual gaming habits offer government surveillance agencies a look at some key personal data, including but not limited to age, location and even sexual orientation. Angry Birds is cited by name by the documents as an example of the type of so-called “leaky” apps that can act as a source for this sort of information.
It’s a troubling revelation, but not all that surprising given the extent of the intelligence activities previously painted by Snowden’s cache of top-secret documents. Rovio has acted quickly to defend itself, however, and categorically denies any voluntary cooperation with government attempts to collect any data. From a Rovio company press release this morning:
Rovio Entertainment Ltd, which is headquartered in Finland, does not share data, collaborate or collude with any government spy agencies such as NSA or GCHQ anywhere in the world.
There has been speculation in the media that NSA targets Angry Birds to collect end user data. The speculation is based on information from documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
The alleged surveillance may be conducted through third party advertising networks used by millions of commercial web sites and mobile applications across all industries. If advertising networks are indeed targeted, it would appear that no internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled web sites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance. Rovio does not allow any third party network to use or hand over personal end-user data from Rovio’s apps.
In its denial, Rovio suggests a scenario by which the NSA, GCHQ and other companies could be tapping into third-party ad networks to gain access to that data, rather than getting it directly from Angry Birds itself. Rovio CEO Mikael Hed even went so far as to suggest that his company will examine its advertising partnerships to see if there needs to be a major re-thinking about how it goes about working with those networks. The blog post overall paints this as a kind of crisis point in the industry, wherein everyone involved has to take pains to make sure customer privacy is being protected.
Even if the only outcome of these revelations is a frank re-examining of third-party ad networks, and what kind of information is shared with said organizations by the companies that use them to monetize, that adds up to a win. There’s relatively little transparency in terms of what protections users of these apps are afforded, especially outside of the U.S., and it’s worth shining a light on that relationship given how widespread the ad-supported free software model has become on mobile.