A new report from The New York Times says the U.S. National Security Agency specifically looks for data sent by mobile apps in order to capture personal data on surveillance targets.
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 profiles vary depending on which ad company compiles them. Profiles can contain information in the form of a string of characters that identifies the phone, and also includes basic information like age, sex, and location. Profiles can also contain whether the user is currently listening to music, or making a call.
Apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all support sending location data, allowing intelligence agencies to track the user in real-time without needing direct access to their phone.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, long a vocal opponent of some of the NSA’s surveillance methods met recently with the President to discuss the NSA’s actions.
The NSA says it only analyzes data on foreign intelligence targets, and that the, “N.S.A. does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission. 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.” The agency claims that similar protections are in place for “innocent foreign citizens.”