The U.S. National Security Agency specifically looks for data sent by mobile apps in order to capture personal data on targets, according to a new report from The New York Times and other news agencies.
Intelligence agencies can grab data as it travels across the Internet, looking specifically for data from smartphone apps including Google Maps -- searches within the app allow Governments to locate users to within a few yards -- and even Angry Birds. Much of the information being sent seems to be related to targeted advertising.
The secret report noted that the profiles vary depending on which of the ad companies — which include Burstly and Google’s ad services, two of the largest online advertising businesses — compiles them. Most profiles contain a string of characters that identifies the phone, along with basic data on the user like age, sex and location. One profile notes whether the user is currently listening to music or making a call, and another has an entry for household income.
In addition, apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all support sending some amount of location data and other information, allowing intelligence agencies significant opportunities to capture personal data in real-time on targeted persons without ever having access to phones, something that was part of a different intelligence strategy revealed in previous leaked documents.
For its part, the NSA says it only analyzes data on foreign intelligence targets and that significant protections exist for data collected on U.S. persons and "innocent foreign citizens". The NSA has said in the past that collection of this sort of smartphone traffic has been useful in cracking cases.
"N.S.A. does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission," the agency said in a written response to questions about the program. "Because some data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in N.S.A.'s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process." Similar protections, the agency said, are in place for "innocent foreign citizens."
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