Imagine that you are playing the very addictive Angry Birds on your iPhone or Android powered Samsung Galaxy S IV. While you will be under the impression that you are playing this seemingly innocuous game for passing your time, you may be revealing your name, age, sex, location and other personal information to the American National Security Agency (NSA) and British Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ).
As per the latest revelations, both NSA and GCHQ have been using the iOS and Android Apps to grab personal details of the user unknown to him or her. Like the other wire tapping programs undertaken by NSA and it cohorts, this one too spans the globe. Under the guise of surveillance of terror suspects, the NSA and the GCHQ have been said to be trying to exploit the Apps and Games universe that exists in today’s mobile ecosystem. Alarmingly and strangely, the tapping and snooping is said to have become more severe with each software and firmware update from the mobile OS providers. Which means that the Android 4.4 Kitkat and iOS 7 are divulging more personal data than the old Android 2.1 or iOS 6.
The latest revelations also reveal that this seemingly harmless Apps and games were indeed good data careers for the spy agencies as they can reveal everything the particular user has been doing right from his/her IMEI number to where they have been the whole day. The reports further reveal that the N.S.A. and GCHQ have been working together to master the art of data collection and storage from these Apps and Games available on millions of smart phones sold every year. The work was first started in the year 2007 as per the latest leaks published.
The entire Apps and Games snooping project can be summed up from the 2011 British document where this entire phenomenon was called “the mobile surge”. The NSA had named one of the projects as ‘Golden Nugget!” as per the latest leaks and the Golden Nugget is a top secret 2010 talk describing the potential use of iPhones and Android phones as rich resources for data trapping.
The latest leaks have just been published and as such the entire scal of this project is not known. But one thing is clear, the documents clearly show that the N.S.A. and the British agency routinely obtained information from older Apps and as the newer Apps and Games like the Angry Birds were introduced, the agencies data collection capability increased exponentially. The reports however do not make it clear whether the NSA and GCHQ actually used the data. Which means that as per the reports, the NSA and GCHQ has the capability to hunt down the name, age, sex, location and other personal information of any user who uses the App or Game but it is not known whether they actually used it. A secret 2012 British intelligence document says that spies can scrub smartphone apps that contain details like a user’s “political alignment” and sexual orientation.
Readers may remember that the United States President Obama had announced curbs on NSA regarding the collection and viewing of the ‘metadata’ collected through surveillance of emails, calls, video chats, chats, forums etc. but he did not address anything about the data collected through such methods like App and Game backdoors. Analysts around the world feel that this is a new way for the Americans and their allies to continue with its surveillance program without running foul with the Presidential directive or the Congress.