Revelations that the
Documents released by former NSA contractor
"Privacy is dead in the digital world that we live in," said
The latest disclosures from Snowden underscore how vast a treasure trove cellphone apps are, and not only for the advertisers that sweep them for consumer data. Zscaler's analysis found that 96 percent of the top 25 social networking apps request |e-mail access, 92 percent ask for access to users' address books and 84 percent inquire about their physical locations. Sutton said most people gave the apps what they wanted.
Applications for smartphones and tablets present a challenge when it comes to security because, unlike with computer software, most apps depend almost entirely on ads to make money.
While technology companies often encrypt what they collect to shield it from prying eyes, the advertising services they work with frequently don't, said
Lookout studied 30 000 apps this month and found that 38 percent of those for Android systems could determine locations, that half could access the unique code assigned to a person's device and that 15 percent could grab phone numbers.
The reach of apps, and of the networks advertisers use to pass data around, make them natural eavesdropping targets and are aiding a shift in the focus of surveillance efforts away from personal computers, Mahaffey said.
"They have a lot of valuable information and they're everywhere," he said. "Everyone from the NSA to
"Uninhibited collection of consumers' personal data by governments hacking into apps is unacceptable," said
"This surveillance damages our entire industry and undermines the hard work of app-developer entrepreneurs everywhere."
Many people aren't aware of what their applications are scooping up, and the information is often tangential or irrelevant to an app's central purpose.
One game that makes surprising grabs - asking for a user's location or a device's unique code - is Angry Birds, according to research by
Angry Birds, whose games have been downloaded more than a billion times, was identified in the Snowden documents as a target of NSA spying.
"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," said
There are dozens of networks that collect and share details from apps and connect marketers to users with tailored ads. AdMob, owned by
The NSA sensors that capture traffic travelling across key internet junctures was probably what allowed the agency to collect cellphone ad data and look for patterns,
While cellphone app data could have unquestioned value for investigators in select cases, it's difficult to separate key signals from noise in such huge datasets, he said.
The apps documents released by Snowden, who lives in
The US had charged Snowden with theft and espionage for leaking documents last year that unveiled the breadth of the NSA's collection of internet and telephone records.
The agency has defended its data gathering as essential to national security. -
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