All those cool apps you have installed on your smartphone are probably making it easy for intelligence agencies to spy on you.
According to a new report coming from The Guardian in partnership with New York Times and ProPublica, the NSA and GCHQ regularly harvest sensitive personal data from phone apps that transmit user data across the web, including the extremely popular game “Angry Birds.”
It doesn’t even matter what type of phone you have, since the agencies can crack open all operating systems, whether it’s iOS, Android, Windows Phone or Symbian, although they each present a different challenge.
By using this method, the intelligence agencies get information such as details about the smartphone you’re using, along with data such as your age, gender and location, political affiliation, and sexual orientation.
It looks like the NSA and the GCHQ “piggyback” their way into phones via third-party advertisements that get onto the device when an app is downloaded. Mixing the advertisements with the geolocation data embedded in images when someone uploads anything on social media aids the intelligence agencies to locate someone’s exact position.
It also looks like the photos uploaded to social media via a mobile device are a “perfect scenario” for the NSA since it gives them access to so much information. What type of information? Well, The Guardian makes a list: home country, marital status, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level and number of children.
An even more sophisticated tool that the agencies have involves intercepting Google map queries from smartphones. A 2008 GCHQ file notes that this “effectively means that anyone using Google maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system.”
The GCHQ’s targeted tools for smartphones are named after characters in The Smurfs. For instance, “Nosey Smurf” can turn your phone into a listening device for the agency, “Tracker Smurf” will get your exact location, while “Dreamy Smurf” will activate a phone that is apparently turned off.
Given the wide reach of these tools handled by the intelligence agencies, it should be impossible for them to claim that they’re looking for terrorists and not commercial secrets or incredibly personal information for various purposes.