How the NSA uses Angry Birds to collect data about you

And you thought Angry Birds was just a fun game.
Credit: Provided

The National Security Agency has been monitoring Angry Birds users, it emerged this week.

How can intelligence agencies gather information about you from your mobile games, and what do they know? Metro spoke with Vicente Diaz, a senior malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

Did it surprise you to hear that the NSA gathers data from Angry Birds?

Not really. The information provided by these apps has been proven very valuable both for advertisers and developers, so it should be valuable for intelligence agencies, as well. Many games allow you to play with your contacts and friends, binding individuals into a network of people, pretty much like social networks. This can be valuable information for any intelligence agency.

How does it work?

The last version of Angry Birds asks permission to access things like location and SMS – apparently for advertisement purposes, as the app displays ads while playing. However, this can provide a third party with more information that you want to share, like where you are at this particular moment. All the in-game messages and game pals can also be a source of information similar to social networks. It’s not so scary when you’re just talking about one application, but this is just one example.

Imagine all the different permissions you are providing to all the apps in your mobile device, and how much the mobile is saying about you, your location, the people you talk to and what you say to them. What we see here is how apparently innocent features can be used for a very different purpose when gathered all together with a different objective in mind.

If users of Angry Birds and other games don’t want to be monitored, should they simply stop playing video games?

At this point there are no technical details available, but I understand Angry Birds does not provide an option allowing the user to stop sending data that Rovio later monetizes, in this case legitimately through advertisement. Then, the user has no way to play Angry Birds without the program sending this data, unless he or she plays disconnected from the Internet.

However, we shouldn’t blame Angry Birds for monitoring users, and not playing it won’t prevent users from being monitored. We don’t know how much data and how many apps are being monitored by intelligence services, but there are probably many of them.


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