The news: Not even Angry Birds is safe from the National Security Agency and British intelligence agency GCHQ. A new report published in The Guardian reveals that the NSA and GCHQ monitor and intercept data transmitted from mobile applications on iPhone or Android devices. From The Guardian:
“The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. 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.”
Why the NSA needs to know if you’re a swinger or not remains to be seen, but the NSA apparently wants that information. And whatever it can get from Angry Birds, it wants that too.
Which just goes to show that the NSA will take whatever information it can get its hands on — literally anything available. In November, it was reported that the NSA was even spying on its targets’ pornography habits. If you’re doing something on the internet, the NSA wants to know, and it will figure out a way to get the information it wants.
But one phone app, in particular, is valuable to the NSA and GCHQ. According to the documents Edward Snowden leaked to The Guardian, surveillance operations collect bulk amounts of location information from Google Maps on iPhone or Android, which “effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system.” So remember: Next time you’re looking up how to get to that restaurant, the NSA is watching.
Will this change at all with the reforms to NSA policy that President Barack Obama has promised? The Guardian notes that surveillance of smartphone apps is subject to the same restrictions and regulations as other online surveillance, but apps can be “leaky” compared to other online communications. The information transmitted varies from app to app, so just how much info the NSA is gleaning from your iPhone depends on what you use. Some apps, like Google Maps, give out more information than others.
At this point, maybe we should stop being surprised at the many different ways the NSA collects information. From porn to iPhone apps, the NSA seems to be everywhere. I wonder if they're on Tinder, too.