NSA uses Angry Birds and other smartphone apps to collect user data

by: Andrew GrushJanuary 27, 2014


Just when you thought that all the Angry Birds ever did was fling themselves from slingshots in an effort to get revenge on them bad piggies, we learn that they can also drive go-carts. Think that’s impressive? Bet you didn’t know that they are also experts in espionage.

Citing new documents provided by Edward Snowden, several major publications have revealed that the NSA and the British GCHQ are able to collect personal data from so-called ‘leaky’ apps that use photo sharing, location sharing, and other special permissions. Some of the apps specifically mentioned in leaked documents from Snowden include social network apps like Twitter and Facebook, and navigational apps like Google Maps. On a somewhat surprising note, games such as Angry Birds are also targeted by these agencies.

While the extent of the information varies depending on the app, some of the leaked information reportedly includes things like age, gender, marital status and sexual orientation.

Now keep in mind that these apps are not designed with the intent of spying and instead the permissions are generally for improving the quality and services of the apps, or for delivering ads. In fact, Angry Bird’s creator Rovio has already issued a statement that they are unaware of any spying going on through the use of their programs.

Nonetheless, these apps still prove to be easy targets for the NSA and GCHQ. So what kind of information are these organizations able to get from monitoring smartphone apps? While the extent of the information varies depending on the app, some of the leaked information reportedly includes things like age, gender, marital status and sexual orientation.

Reportedly, the NSA and GCHQ have been trading methods (or as NY Times calls it, ‘recipes’) for grabbing location and planning data from specific apps and address books since as early as 2007. As smartphones have become more commonplace, the amount of data being gleaned has increased dramatically.

While the documents make it pretty clear that the NSA and GCHQ are technically able to piece together a pretty accurate profile of targeted users by collecting bits and pieces of data from various apps, it’s unclear how actively these methods are used and what groups are targeted.

For the NSA’s part, they have released a statement that doesn’t directly deny that they are capable of collecting information from smartphone apps, but they do claim that they do not use any information they collect to spy on “everyday Americans”.

Any implication that NSA’s foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true. … We collect only those communications that we are authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes – regardless of the technical means used by the targets.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at the newly leaked documents and for more information on how deep the rabbit hole goes, be sure to check out the detailed reports from NY Times, ProPublica, and the Guardian.

What do you think about this latest NSA-related report? Surprised or not? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

  • Jayfeather787

    Never liked this game anyways.

    • MadCowOnAStick

      angry birds go was extremely boring

      • Jayfeather787

        I know. Got bored and uninstalled in 5 minutes.

        • Brandon Miranda

          Angry Birds in general was a yawn.

  • Yiddel

    They should just team up with Facebook…

    Who knows, maybe Facebook is the NSA. *dun dun dunnn*

    • districtjack

      Facebook is not run by the NSA. We all know this story is just plain silly. Stop reading this story and continue to another Android Authority post. There are many great articles such as Samsung admitting their update broke third party accessories. Go ahead, check it out. Nothing to see here. Keep moving please.

      • Arturo Raygoza

        oh gawd what a govt shill. of course the CIA used one of its several front companies to fund Facebook. Google it, its not secret

        • facebook is for zombies

          This is true. Facebook’s venture capital investments, from their early days, show they are directly connected to investment fronts of the C|A.

  • Brandon Miranda


  • RanRu

    So the NSA is proposing that they’re using Angry Birds data to gather information only about foreign spies and suspected terrorists?


    • Junon

      Either terrorists like to play Angry Birds (before they blew up something),
      NSA is really spying on everyone (including your 6yo kids, omg).

      If it’s the later, got to do something quick. You should too. We never know what kind of people working in NSA.

      • RanRu

        “Damn these persistent pigs! Why, I’m so angry I could just…”

  • Humberto Hernandez

    This is why we need (at least) AppOps in our devices…

  • namesib

    Android Firewall + Xprivacy

  • Alex Ohannes

    And to think that some people actually believe that the days of having a need for rooting are coming to an end…

  • galdamita

    Now I see why they put the games for free!! Because the NSA subsidies rovio

  • Alan Shearer

    If they want to track my bathroom habits, that is truly your tax dollars at work, go NSA.

  • Mr John

    I knew this game was evil!
    I had a feeling it was from the very start

    • Jason Yuen

      The app probably isn’t inherently malicious. It’s just that the NSA targeted it and used its weaknesses for their use. Can’t blame Toyota because someone on the street stole your Camry.

    • districtjack

      Yeah, I don’t trust that red bird. I mean just look at the eyebrows. Something shady is going on. My gut feeling tells me its NSA, CIA, DHS, and IRS all rolled onto one. All funded by Donald Trump and Glen Beck.

  • AA :P

    NSA is officially out of control! they need better slings to target REAL enemies, not kids. seriously, whats their excuse now ?

    also, big companies are actively working with the NSA, it does seem that way, although they’d like to make noises to the contrary. the bigger a company – the more the chances of it working with NSA

  • Mr james bunt

    Which terrorist play Angry Bird in the first place ? It would be so lame , they kill people not drive around in some shit kart .

    • Jason Yuen

      That’s a pretty narrow perspective. Terrorists are people too. They have needs and characteristics the same as “non-terrorists”. Their ideals may be different, but their habits are like anybody else. Just because they’re terrorists, doesn’t mean they shut out entertainment. In addition to terrorists, they could be used to track criminals. Don’t get me wrong though, I wholeheartedly believe that the NSA should not be blanket collecting data. What I do believe is that they should only be allowed to collect data by targeting suspected individuals if and when it’s necessary. Not the collect-everything-now-in-case-we-need-it-later-to-use-against-future-criminals method.

  • rasik

    Angry Birds I can deal with but Google Maps!?!? My phone can’t live without Maps.