The Angry Birds surveillance scandal is causing customers to lose confidence in mobile apps and the developers’ abilities to ensure the security of the data collected by their apps. This is bringing under scrutiny the relationships that mobile app companies have with advertising networks.
Rovio, the Finnish software company that provides Angry Birds, released a statement in response to Monday’s revelations that GCHQ has been monitoring its consumer data, which may have been accessed through ad networks. In the statement, Rovio Entertainment CEO, Mikael Hed, reassured Angry Birds players that Rovio did not authorize its advertising partners to use or disclose their personal data.
The Guardian, ProPublica, and the New York Times reported that US and UK spy agencies have systems that target “leaky” mobile apps. The systems are capable of accessing technical info as well as personal data like location and gender. It is alleged that some of the apps revealed in the investigation collect data that consumers may not wish to share broadly, like sexual orientation.
Hed said: “Our fans’ trust is the most important thing for us and we take privacy extremely seriously. We do not collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world”.
App companies provide game players and users of other types of content with free or inexpensive access through advertising, which feeds on access to our user data. Mobile apps need advertising networks, but most Angry Birds players were probably not aware that their personal data may have been accessed by spy agencies while channelled through third-party advertising networks.
Spy agencies can, on a massive scale, intercept data transmitted by these networks through the internet. The implications are serious if in fact spy agencies are targeting these networks. In this scenario, said Rovio in its statement: “No internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled web sites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance”.
Rovio also called on other tech companies who use advertising that comes from third-party networks to respond to spy agencies monitoring consumer data on the internet. Hed said: “In order to protect our end users, we will, like all other companies using third-party advertising networks, have to re-evaluate working with these networks if they are being used for spying purposes.”