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NSA's Snooping on App Data? We're Shocked.

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What do we know? Or, what do we think we know as of this second in time?

The National Security Agency are a bunch of privacy-invading geeks with supercomputers. App developers are mining data for advertising through pervasive permissions on your smartphones.

So is it any wonder, whatsoever, that the NSA is reportedly siphoning data off of these apps?

NSA, GCHQ, and Data Mining

This ought to do wonders for Rovio's sales.

According to The Guardian, the medium for all of Snowden's leaks, both the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) siphon personal data, including location, age, gender, and even sexual orientation, from popular smartphone apps.

How? Pervasive app permissions. We ranted about app-makers ever-increasing permission requests late last year, and Google's rescinding of App Ops, a hidden program that would've allowed smartphone users to block certain permissions for certain apps. Instead of giving Angry Birds your sexual history, gender, location, and more, the hidden app blocked those requests.

Google gave (in secret). Then Google took it away.

It comes as no surprise then, that with companies data-mining unsuspecting smartphone users, that the NSA would try to tap the lines. After all, that has to be easier than the some of their other efforts.

Angry, Angry Birds

The GCHQ paperwork used Angry Birds, which has been downloaded more than 1.7 billion times, as its case study, reports the Guardian. Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, is not amused.

The company issued a press release, claiming ignorance of the snooping, and assuring its customers that it played no willing part in the NSA's activities. Instead, they laid the blame on third-party advertising networks.

"Our fans' trust is the most important thing for us and we take privacy extremely seriously. We do not collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world," said Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Entertainment. "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."

What Can You Do?

There's an old saying: if you don't pay for the product, you are the product. It's reached cliché status here in Silicon Valley, but it's absolutely true. Paying a wee bit for an ad-free version of an app could do wonders for the amount of data you are leaking to commercial and government agencies.

Short of that, we previously mentioned flashing CyanogenMod (a tweaked version of Android) on your devices, which includes a permission manager and encrypted text messaging. We'll have a step-by-step guide to flashing CyanogenMod soon.

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