Not even Google Maps, Angry Birds are safe from NSA and GCHQ spying

Angry Birds Rovio
We think these birdies would be mighty pissed off

The documents leaked by Edward Snowden continue to rain revelations, the latest being that government intelligence agencies use Angry Birds, other popular apps and Google Maps in their spying and data collection efforts.

The popular birdbrain smartphone game is apparently "leaky" in that it inadvertently broadcasts users' data. The NSA and its UK counterpart the GCHQ are apparently all too keen to take advantage of that.

The data can include anything from phone specs to sensitive information like a user's age, sexual orientation, gender, political leanings and more, according to reports from The Guardian, The New York Times and ProPublica.

The data is collected and transmitted for "commercial" purposes, presumably related to ads, but the NSA and GCHQ "piggyback" on these apps to collect the info as part of their widespread global data collection efforts, the reports said.

No wonder they're angry

Angry Birds is not alone in this, either; Facebook and Twitter were also named in these reports, as well as Millenial Media, an ad platform that has partnered with big game companies like Angry Birds developer Rovio, Call of Duty maker Activision, and FarmVille developer Zynga.

And although apps like Twitter and Facebook may delete location data and other metadata from photos and posts before they're published on the social networks, that information may briefly be available during the uploading process.

So depending on when in this process the metadata is discarded and when the government agencies intercept the item being uploaded, that information may still be available.

Google Maps is apparently a major source of information for these agencies as well, as they can piece together large swathes of location data from users' search and directions queries.

Sworn to protect

This just-revealed data collection differs from the spying we knew about previously in that these reports claim the NSA and GCHQ are collecting data from smartphone apps in addition to calls and texts, data sources that were previously revealed.

The NSA said in a statement that it doesn't target individual US citizens with its phone data collection practices, and that protections exist for citizens who are incidentally targeted as well as for foreigners who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

For its part, Rovio said it has no knowledge of data collection or spying activities on the part of the NSA or GCHQ, no idea whether ad networks like Millenial Media are complicit in these activities and no involvement whatsoever with these agencies or their surveillance programs.

Update: Rovio's CEO Mikael Hed said in no uncertain terms: "We do not collaborate, collude or share data with spy angencies anywhere in the world.

"As the alleged surveillance might be happening through third party advertising networks, the most important conversation to be had is how to ensure user privacy is protected while preventing the negative impact on the whole advertising industry and the countless mobile apps that rely on ad networks.

"In order to protect our end users, we will, like all other companies using third party advertising networks, have to re-evaluate working with these networks if they are being used for spying purposes."

Both the NSA and the GCHQ stressed that all programs operate within the letter of the law, and the NSA further claimed that revealing them to the public in this manner "is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies - and places at risk those we are sworn to protect."

Michael Rougeau

Michael Rougeau is a former freelance news writer for TechRadar. Studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Northeastern University, Michael has bylines at Kotaku, 1UP, G4, Complex Magazine, Digital Trends, GamesRadar, GameSpot, IFC, Animal New York, @Gamer, Inside the Magic, Comic Book Resources, Zap2It, TabTimes, GameZone, Cheat Code Central, Gameshark, Gameranx, The Industry, Debonair Mag, Kombo, and others.

Micheal also spent time as the Games Editor for, and was the managing editor at GameSpot before becoming an Animal Care Manager for Wags and Walks.