Largely because I refuse to get a smartphone, I’ve never played Angry Birds. The latest round of NSA news that reveals that it has developed ways to exploit “leaky” apps to access users’ private information—all the usual stuff, but also information about gender, location, and sexual orientation—doesn’t affect me all that much. That is, other than giving me another reason to shake my head at the organization that day by day descends another level deeper into the inferno. If you’re one of the millions of people who play Angry Birds on a regular basis, you’ll probably be…well, angry. Rovio, the Finnish company behind the game, say it’s right there with you.
Rovio launched the game in 2009, and it has been downloaded nearly two billion times and has hundreds of millions of active monthly users. Reports from the company show that 50% of new device purchasers download the game. They’ve assured consumers that the company didn’t know about, and wasn’t complicit in, the spy agency’s gathering of information, and maintains that it doesn’t allow advertisers to sell or use personal information. In fact, their main webpage says, “Rovio does not provide end user data to government surveillance agencies.”
Rovio even said that it will reevaluate its advertising practices, given that the information they collect is particularly susceptibility to NSA access. The company also said that the industry needs to reexamine its position with regards to accessible commercial data, and that if organizations such as the NSA and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) target advertising. “[I}t would appear that no internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled web sites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance.”
The NSA has spent an estimated $1 billion in efforts to target phones since 2007—that year, NSA’s budget swelled from $204 million to $767 million—and the ubiquity of smartphones only helps that effort. The slide below from a 2010 NSA presentation pretty much sums it all up:
Edward Snowden really screwed these guys, didn’t he? Good for him. Still, the NSA still claims that it focuses on “valid foreign intelligence targets,” not Americans, and both the NSA and GCHQ maintain that their practices comply with US and UK laws. Here’s a slide from a GCHQ presentation of the same year:
Last Wednesday, two days after this news broke, Rovio’s website was hacked. Spokespeople for Rovio say that the hack was short-lived—only a few minutes long—and that user data wasn’t at risk. In other weird Angry Birds news, the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court just finished hearing the case of a Dublin City University student who stole computers from the university with plans on designing a rival game called Angry Pigs. The student and his accomplice jumped out of a window while on the run from security. He broke his leg and spent the night in a bush, after which his accomplice came back with a wheelbarrow to whisk him away. Of course, security guards saw the wheelbarrow rescue and apprehended the suspects, who pled guilty. One cannot make this stuff up.