Top secret documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden to the media indicate that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and its UK counterpart Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been developing capabilities that allow them to take advantage of so-called leaky smartphone apps such as the popular Angry Birds game as they transmit users' private information across the internet.
Potential data collection from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps can include personal details such as age, gender and location.
Dozens of classified documents, provided to the Guardian newspaper by Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times and independent not-for-profitt newsroom ProPublica, detail the NSA and GCHQ efforts to use this commercial data collection for their own purposes.
"Exploiting phone information and location is a high-priority effort for the intelligence agencies, as terrorists and other intelligence targets make substantial use of phones in planning and carrying out their activities, for example by using phones as triggering devices in conflict zones. The NSA has cumulatively spent more than $1bn in its phone targeting efforts," reports the Guardian.
According to the documents, one of the best sources of information for intelligence gathering has been the Millennial Media mobile advertising platform, which has worked with Rovio, the Finnish company that created Angry Birds.
In an interview with the Guardian, a Rovio representative said that they had no knowledge of any programmes looking to extract data from its apps users. "Rovio doesn't have any previous knowledge of this matter and have not been aware of such activity in third party advertising networks," said Saara Bergström, Rovio's VP of marketing and communications.