Snowden docs: NSA snooping on apps

Documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden show U.S. and British spy agencies have the ability to snoop on people through the apps they use.

The NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) worked on how to collect and store data from dozens of so-called “leaky apps” that disclose details about their users, according to the top-secret documents obtained by The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica.

When a user opens a game or other app on their phone or tablet, intelligence agency officials can snatch information about their location, age, gender, sexual orientation and other sensitive details, the 2010 documents indicate.

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The information is routinely used by companies to target their advertising, but the spy agencies have developed tools to scan it for their own purposes, seemingly without the app companies' knowledge. 

According to the Times, spy agencies have been able to use the popular game "Angry Birds" to obtain information, but it is not clear whether they have put that ability into practice. 

Since 2007, the NSA and GCHQ have traded details about how to grab information when people use Google Maps and how to steal geographic and other data from photos uploaded from phones to Twitter and Facebook, the Times reported.

Some of the documents obtained by the news agencies explore the “perfect scenario” of a person uploading a photo from their mobile device to a social media site.

“What can we get?” the NSA asks in a slide titled “Golden Nugget!”

According to the document, agents can look at the phone's settings and service provider to get a location “specific to a certain region,” as well as a list of websites visited, contact lists, documents that have been downloaded, call logs and other data.

Agents search images and other documents that people upload to the Web for identifying “fingerprints."

“We can geo phones from virtually anywhere,” the documents conclude. 

Other slides from GCHQ point out weak spots as data transmits from a mobile phone network to the larger Internet, where the agencies can nab the information.