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Spy agency warns Swedes over 'leaky' apps

Published: 28 Jan 2014 16:30 GMT+01:00

"It's not a case of hacking, rather it's that so many apps leak huge amounts of information -- more than you think," Fredrik Wallin, spokesman for Sweden's National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets Radioanstalt, FRA) told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

"That's something you should be aware of as a user, but most often you're not."

Details leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has educated staff about the amounts of information that can be gleaned from apps on people's smartphones. 

The Guardian newspaper reported that an agency slide from a May 2010 presentation asked "What can we get?" when someone uploads an image to a social media site using a smartphone. The answer? Location, email, friends lists, and "a host of other social networking data". 

The newspaper reported that one app susceptible to information leaks to foreign intelligence services was the immensely popular Angry Birds game, developed in Finland by app maker Rovio.

"Rovio doesn't have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in third party advertising networks," Rovio marketing vice-president Saara Bergström told The Guardian. 

The latest revelation pointed out that different apps could leak a wide range of information, including marital status, sexual orientation, income, and ethnicity. A user may also be giving away information about what level of education they have, whether they have children and, if so, how many. 

Experts at the Swedish Data Protection Board (Datainspektionen) said many Swedes had testified to apps requesting access to their personal information. But while app makers were not allowed to gather user information without consent, they were well within their rights to request access to items such as photos and location, according to Ulrika Bergström, a lawyer for the data privacy watchdog.

"It's 'accept the product as it is, or go elsewhere'," she told newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN).
 
Some Swedes took the news with a sprinkle of humour, including TV presenter Annika Lantz who said the revelation gave her performance anxiety now that American spies could be watching her play Angry Birds. 
 
Får lite prestationsångest när jag spelar Angry birds, nu när jag vet att NSA tittar.
 
When news of Sweden collaborating with the NSA came out last summer, The Local gauged reaction among Stockholmers. The responses varied but many said they were far from surprised by the news.
 
 
"Conceptually I can see how it might be an issue," one man responded.
 
On Tuesday, Swedish football columnist Olof Lundh questioned what the Americans could possibly hope to get from Angry Birds intelligence, apart from a tonne of "garbage". 
 
A Swedish blogger also took the opportunity to poke fun at the tepid reaction in Sweden to revelations of the extent of data espionage. In a fictitious dialogue, the blogger tweeted:
 
Snowden: NSA is monitoring your mail
The people: Zzzzz
S: They are hacking into your computer
TP. Zzzzz
S: The are spying with the help of Angry Birds
TP: NO WAY WHAT THE... 
 
 
Bergström from the Data Protection Board urged app makers be as "clear as possible" when informing users about data retention practices.
 

The Local/at (news@thelocal.se)

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