After revelations that a popular internet game, Angry Birds, was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and UK’s GCHQ to download a spy application on user computers, the web site was summarily hacked and defaced. Last night a hacker placed an NSA logo on the Bird’s head and replaced the name of the game with the title “Spying Birds.”
Angry Birds used for spying
The revelation that the Angry Bird’s game was being used as a spy apparatus was first revealed in documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. When the information was released, it caused a firestorm among users of the game. Trying to calm the fears of its fan base, Angry Bird’s developer, Rovio Entertainment, issued a statement denying involvement. “Rovio Entertainment… does not share data, collaborate or collude with any government spy agencies such as NSA or GCHQ anywhere in the world.”
If true this could be the first public example of US spy agency hacking into a private enterprise’s software, loading spyware without the firm’s knowledge and then damaging that firm’s business.
Wider distribution of spy applications at issue
In its statement, Rovio hinted at a much wider breach not limited to the Finish company. “The alleged surveillance may be conducted through third party advertising networks used by millions of commercial web sites and mobile applications across all industries,” the statement said. “If advertising networks are indeed targeted, it would appear that no internet-enabled device that visits ad-enabled web sites or uses ad-enabled applications is immune to such surveillance.”
For an internet-based software product such as Angry Birds, which appeals to a young, Internet-savvy audience, damaging the firm’s brand reputation by implying the software firm was collaborating with an ever growing unpopular NSA spying apparatus could have a significant impact.
Damage done to technology industry, economy
Leaders of the largest US technology firms met with President Barack Obama last December to forcefully communicate that NSA spying activities were harming their brand reputations and damaging the technology economy, one of the bright spots of US innovation and job growth.
The negative impact on a firm can be significant. In a report in the Washington Post, Cisco Systems said it is seeing oversees customers back away from American-branded technology as a result of the NSA’s spying programs. The report did not put an exact number on the damage done.
For Rovio’s part, they are in damage control mode, trying to win back the trust of customers and build back their hard earned reputation that has been mired in the spy escapade. “Our fans’ trust is the most important thing for us and we take privacy extremely seriously,” said Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Entertainment in a statement. “As the alleged surveillance might be happening through third party advertising networks, 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.”