GCHQ and NSA accused of using Angry Birds and Google Maps to nab user data

Angry Birds in space

US and British surveillance agencies have been accused of using Angry Birds and other popular smartphone apps to gather users' personal information.

That's according to the latest round of revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, which have been made public by the New York Times and Guardian newspaper.

It's claimed the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ have colluded on how to take advantage of "leaky apps" that inadvertently spill details about the age, sex and location of their users.

These include mapping, gaming and social networking apps, although the amount of data that's been collected in this way is not yet clear, nor is the number of users likely to be affected.

The documents suggest GCHQ and the NSA have "traded methods" for collecting location data from Google Maps users, along with address book and phone log data when users post pictures to mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The report claims the two surveillance agencies have been working on ways to collect and store these types of data since 2007.

Its work to-date has reportedly focused on collecting data from older apps, but newer ones including Angry Birds are being targeted too, the latest tranche of documents from Snowden suggest.

In particular, they set out how to obtain information from Angry Birds running on Android-based devices.

The latest revelations come hot on the heels of President Obama's pledge earlier this month to curb the surveillance activities of the NSA.

In a statement to the New York Times, the NSA insisted it does not profile "everyday Americans" during its foreign intelligence missions.

"Because some data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA's lawful foreign intelligences mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process," the statement added.

GCHQ declined to comment, aside from saying its activities complied with British law.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.