The National Security Agency reportedly has a love affair with mobile app data, collecting personal information from Google Maps and Angry Birds, referring to the program as a “Golden Nugget”.
The classified documents, which were leaked to a handful of news agencies — originate partly from a leak by whistleblower Edward Snowden. They reveal a long-standing project to collect personal data from “leaky” mobile applications. Mobile apps collect a staggering amount of personal data, on everything from product preferences to location.
According to Propublica,
“The two agencies displayed a particular interest in Google Maps, which is accurate to within a few yards or better in some locations. Intelligence agencies collect so much data from the app that “you’ll be able to clone Google’s database” of global searches for directions, according to a top-secret N.S.A. report from 2007.”
Some apps collect quite personal information, from martial status to sexual preference. Think Grindr, the wildly popular geolocation hookup app.
“Some apps, the documents state, can share users’ most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger.”
From a national security perspective, if agents can find a terrorist with a secret Grindr account, that’d be a strategic goldmine.
So, of all the reported spying thus far, mobile app data could be the most ripe for abuse. Most of the leaked document slides are from a few years back, so it’s unclear whether international agencies ever actually built the technology, or were allowed to collect such data.
Rovio, makers of Angry Birds, vigorously denied cooperating with the NSA.
“Rovio doesn’t have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks,” spokesperson Saara Bergström told The Guardian. “Nor do we have any involvement with the organizations you mentioned [NSA and GCHQ].”
The future of the NSA is now in congress’ hands, as the 2014 session will deliberate whether to end the legal programs that allowed the digital spying of Americans and foreign nationals.