New documents released by Edward Snowden show that mobile apps, including mobile games are being used by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ to collect information about their users. Some of the apps identified include Angry Birds, Google Maps, and any app that collects information. So, all of them.
Information collected includes personal data on location, email address, user names and passwords, political affiliation, and even sexual orientation. The makers of these apps aren’t working directly with the government spy agencies though. Instead they’re taking advantage of the third party exchange that takes place when an app is given permission to collect information. This information is exchanged between apps and often sold to third parties for advertising. It is in this exchange that the NSA and GCHQ are able to gather data.
Of course this isn’t the first time the gaming industry has been the target of spying. It has previously been revealed that the NSA and GCHQ go into MMOs like World of Warcraft and Second Life looking for terrorists who it is said use these virtual spaces to communicate over vast distances.
What can we do as consumers?
Review the apps you have. See what data it is you’ve already given them permission to collect. Go to the app management section in your phone and tablet settings and find the list of permissions you automatically give an app when you install the app. Unfortunately these permissions can only be taken away one way. Deleting the app.
Research before you install. Before you install an app it will say exactly what information they are able to gather. This information is a bit like a EULA. No one ever actually reads it. If you aren’t happy with how much they can gather then simply don’t install the app. This is a form of voting with your wallet.
Contact app developers. Contact developers of your favorite apps and let them know how you feel! Use strong language and let them know you won’t stand for this kind of violation.
Be vocal and tell others. It amazes me sometimes how people can know so little about something that they use on a daily basis. But this happens all the time. Stay informed and help others do the same.
Things won’t change unless people are vocal. This has been proved on a large scale with Netflix’s short lived decision to split their streaming service from the rest of their services and Instagram’s decision to sell photos people had put on their service. Both of these were backed out of after huge public outcry.