The lights are on
A new report indicates that the National Security Agency has created means to collect personal data by using smartphone applications. Angry Birds is allegedly one of the programs that has been specifically targeted.
The New York Times reports that government agencies can learn much from the data, including political alignment, sexual orientation, address book information, and location data. Whether the agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters have put this into practice yet for Angry Birds is unclear.
Most alarming is that the NSA can cull advertising profiles. These often include buying habits, visited websites, and other details that can be used to infer information about a user. For instance, if you visit parenting websites and purchase children’s clothing, you probably have children. Shop for expensive items and visit luxury goods websites? Chances are you have a healthy bank account.
This isn’t complex when you think about a single individual, but when you fathom that computer algorithms piece these profiles together for almost everyone, it’s easier to see how the data can be misused. Exposed advertising profiles, which tend to be extremely accurate can simplify government data collection efforts.
Angry Birds developer Rovio has come under fire for data collection practices before, specifically with regard to providing that information to advertisers. Each advertiser is different, with some collecting basic data, and others compiling more intrusive policies.
Millennial Media, which has worked with Rovio in the past implementing ad services in the developer’s apps, has been identified with the latter variety. The fact that Millennial collects the data is known, but their methods (especially for assigning values to the marital and sexual orientation fields) is not.
No evidence exists that the app developers are complicit in surveillance measures, and Rovio specifically denied knowledge when asked by The New York Times. The NSA also denies profiling Americans without cause, however some data might be collected incidentally.
[Source: New York Times]
Our TakeWhether you believe the government is using Angry Birds to spy on you or not, and whether you believe that you have anything to hide or not, there is a lesson in this story. There are vulnerabilities that exist in the devices we use most frequently. Being cognizant of them is simply part of using the technology responsibly.