In Brief

NSA spies capturing data from 'leaky' apps like Angry Birds

Latest Edward Snowden leaks reveal iPhone and Android apps are rich source of data for agencies

THE NSA and GCHQ have been developing techniques to capture data from "leaky" smartphone apps such as Angry BirdsThe Guardian reports. 

The surveillance systems mop up information that is "pouring onto communications networks" from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps, documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal. The information ranges from technical details – the make and model of a handset, for example – to personal data such as age, gender and location.

One of the apps captured by the NSA surveillance system even revealed users' sexual preferences, such as whether or not they were a 'swinger'.

The Guardian says many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet. Even the most sophisticated users, it says, would be "unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect".

The New York Times describes the situation rather more bluntly. When a smartphone user opens Angry Birds and "starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spies could be lurking in the background to snatch data revealing the player's location, age, sex and other personal information, according to secret British intelligence documents," it says.

The excitement within the NSA and GCHQ at the possibility of harvesting information from apps is evident from the leaked documents the NYT says.

One briefing was given the "breathless" title 'Golden Nugget' by an NSA analyst, and iPhones and Android phones are described as "rich resources".

The 'Golden Nugget' document goes on to describe the intelligence that might be available if someone uploads a photograph taken on a smartphone to a social media site. The NSA analyst says it should be possible to obtain an image, details of the phone and "a host of other social working data as well as location".

The Guardian notes that, in practice, most major social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, "strip photos of identifying location metadata (known as EXIF data) before publication". But depending on when this is done during the uploading process, "such data may still, briefly, be available for collection by the agencies as it travels across the networks".

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