Angry Birds maker wants industry response to mobile app spying

Angry Birds maker to re-evaluate its relationship with ad networks after revelations that spy agencies can access user data

Angry Birds maker Rovio has announced it will “re-evaluate” its relationship with advertising networks after revelations that US and UK spy agencies can access the private user data the games maker collects.

The Finnish software firm has also called for the wider industry to respond to the use of commercial data by spy agencies, reports the Guardian.

The move comes after reports based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been targeting analytics data from mobile apps like Angry Birds.

According to reports, US and UK spy agencies can collect sensitive user data from "leaky" smartphone apps, ranging from basic technical information to gender and location.

Rovio said that if spy agencies are targeting advertising networks, then “it would appear that no internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled websites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance”.

The company said it was not complicit in the surveillance, and did not allow any of its advertising networks to “use or hand over” personal user data.

While targeted adverts are at the core of most online business models, Rovio said the latest spying revelations mean it is vital for the industry to re-examine the issue of user privacy.

“The most important conversation to be had is how to ensure user privacy is protected while preventing the negative impact on the whole advertising industry and the countless mobile apps that rely on ad networks,” said Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Entertainment.

The latest Snowden leaks could lead to a shakeup in the mobile apps and advertising industries because they have highlighted just how much personal information is collected behind the scenes.

In a speech to tie in with Data Protection Day 2014, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said she knew why the angry birds look so angry, referring to the mass surveillance of personal data collected from mobile apps.

She said data protection reform proposals would be central to restoring trust in the digital economy. She called for a rethink of the European Data Retention law.

"One cannot simply use ‘national security’ as a trump card and disregard citizens' rights. That is what others used to do. The European Data Retention law needs a health check," Reding said.

"Now I know why the angry birds look so angry. Often with applications, the rule is 'take it or leave it'. That’s when trust evaporates. That's when people feel forced to part with their privacy."

Addressing the issue of data collection by companies and surveillance by governments, she said: "These issues are connected, not separate. Backdoors have been built, encryption has been weakened. Concerns about government surveillance drive consumers away from digital services."

The revelations of spying on Angry Birds and other mobile apps have coincided with other reports based on documents leaked by Snowden that claim UK spy agency GCHQ has the capability to monitor real-time YouTube video views, Facebook "likes" and Blogger visits.

Details of an alleged GCHQ programme codenamed Squeaky Dolphin have been published by NBC News. The report said GCHQ showed off its abilities to the NSA in 2012.

As revelations about data collection by spy agencies continue, the NSA and GCHQ have emphasised that although they collect a lot of data, their actual use of it is targeted.

GCHQ has repeatedly issued statements insisting that all its work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework.

The agency claims this policy framework ensures that GCHQ’s activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate.

It also claims the policy framework ensures there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

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