FAQ about NSA’s interest in Angry Birds and other ‘leaky apps’

ProPublica lay out more from its story about how the NSA and its British counterpart have been scouring smartphone apps

As we detailed on Monday, documents show the NSA and its British counterpart have been probing advertiser data on smartphone apps, which can include your gender, income, and even whether you’re a “swinger.”

Do you have questions? Post them in comments or tweet us.

What’s new here?

This article reveals how U.S. and British spy agencies have sought to intercept the information transmitted by the games and other apps that users download onto their smartphones. Previous stories have detailed how U.S. and British spies have been intercepting massive quantities of cellphone text messages and gathering the location of cellphones around the world.

How does it work?

Many people don’t realize that when they use a smartphone app – to play a game or listen to music – the app may transmit information back to the app maker and may contain tracking technology placed by advertisers.

The spy agencies call these “leaky apps.” The spies collect information from among others, Google Maps, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo's Flickr, which in turn can transmit location, buddy lists, browsing history and more, according to a 2010 NSA document.

A 2010 Wall Street Journal survey of 101 iPhone and Android apps showed that the majority of apps were transmitting the phone’s unique ID – a type of serial number assigned to the device – and the user’s location to advertisers.

Since then, advertisers have been building even more detailed profiles of app users.

By using the phone’s identifier, advertisers can often monitor the user’s behavior in multiple apps and when the user browses the Web from their smartphone. Advertisers can tie the information together in a dossier that can include a user’s location, income and preferences such as sexual orientation and political leanings.

How does the NSA get it?

The agencies can pick up much of this information as it travels through private cellphone networks around the world. And because the data includes a tag from your phone, the agencies may have the ability to know who you are.

Does this mean the NSA is watching me while I play Angry Birds?

It’s not clear. The documents show that spies have collected data from Google’s AdMob, which is largest mobile advertising network and is one of many advertisers whose ads have appeared in Angry Birds.

The agencies say that even if they collect the data, they don’t look at it unless it is relevant to an investigation.

The NSA also says that it “minimizes”– or throws away - the data it intercepts from people who live in the United States. However, its minimization rules allow it to keep information about U.S. residents if it is deemed suspicious or could be relevant to an investigation.

Do they really know if I’m a “swinger”?

Documents show that analysts at GCHQ in 2012 studied the possibility of collecting traffic from Millennial Media, which included advertising profiles that identified users by ‘sexual orientation’ including the category of swingers.

However, it is unclear whether the data has been used for intelligence purposes.

It is also not clear what type of app usage or Web browsing behavior would lead Millennial Media to characterize someone as a swinger. Millennial declined our request for comment.

Can I stop leaky apps from sending out data about me?

No, but you can make it harder for advertisers to track you on your phone.

Apple’s latest iPhone software, iOS 7, offers two options to limit ad tracking.

  • In privacy settings, users can turn on “limit ad tracking,” which prevents apps from using the phone’s unique ID – which Apple calls an “Advertising Identifier” – to deliver targeted ads within apps. But this setting does not prevent apps from collecting your information.
  • In privacy settings, users can also reset their Advertising Identifier, which can make it more difficult but not impossible for advertisers to correlate the user’s behavior to the advertising profile associated with the old identifier.

Google’s Android also offers users two options to limit ad tracking.




Sensex, Nifty resist getting pulled down on RBI move: Tuesday closing report

Nifty was surprisingly resilient after the RBI move to raise rates but may meet with more selling after a slow rise

Against market’s anticipation of a policy of “no change”, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) surprised everyone by raising its main lending rate viz. the repo rate by 25 basis points to 8% in its quarterly review of monetary policy. Indian stock market which opened in the positive on Tuesday despite a weak US and Asian markets, crashed the moment the RBI announced a rate hike. NSE Nifty fell from 6150 to 6086 in two minutes when massive buying emerged pulling the market almost to the green. The indices closed in the negative for the third consecutive session.


BSE Sensex opened at 20,721 while Nifty opened at 6,132. Both the indices hit a high of 20,795 and 6,164, respectively. From where the straight plunge into the negative is where the indices hit the day’s low at 20,554 and 6,086. The Sensex closed at 20,684 (down 24 points or 0.12%), its lowest since 17 December 2013. The Nifty closed at 6,126 (down 10 points or 0.16%). The NSE recorded a volume of 61.69 crore shares.


Among the other indices on the NSE the top five gainers were Metal (1.86%); Realty (1.32%); Commodities (0.52%); FMCG (0.43%) and Auto (0.23%) while the top five losers were MNC (1.05%); IT (1.01%); Pharma (1%); Service (0.58%) and Consumption (0.34%).


Of the 50 stocks on the Nifty, 30 ended in the green. The top five gainers were Tata Steel (3.46%); Ranbaxy (2.68%); Sesa Sterlite (2.28%); Hindalco (2.21%) and Jaiprakash Associates (2.12%). The top five losers were Maruti (9.33%); Axis Bank (3.58%); Lupin (2.39%); Sun Pharma (2.34%) and Cipla (1.49%).


Of the 1,470 companies on the NSE, 706 companies closed in the green, 671 companies closed in the red while 93 companies closed flat.


The reverse repo rate under the LAF stands adjusted at 7% and the marginal standing facility rate and the Bank Rate at 9%, the RBI said. The central bank kept the cash reserve ratio of scheduled banks unchanged at 4% of net demand and time liability.


If policy actions succeed in delivering the desired inflation outcome, real GDP growth can be expected to firm up from a little below 5% in 2013-14 to a range of 5% to 6% in 2014-15, with risks balanced around the central estimate of 5.5%, the RBI said.


US indices closed in the negative on Monday. Sales of new single-family homes fell in December, but the whole of 2013 saw the highest sales level in five years, the US government reported Monday, 27 January 2014. Sales of new single-family homes dropped 7% in December due to harsh winter weather. The median price of new homes ticked up in December and for 2013, the median price hit $265,800, up 8.4% from the prior year, the strongest annual growth since 2005.


Asian indices had a mixed performance. Straits Times was the top gainer which rose 0.66% while Taiwan Weighted was the top loser which fell 1.58%.


Profit at China's industrial companies increased 6% in December from a year earlier, after rising 9.7% in the previous month, the National Bureau of Statistics said today.


Thailand's manufacturing production decreased 6.2% in December from a year earlier, according to a report today, 28 January 2014.


European indices were trading in the green. In Turkey, the country's central bank said it will "take the necessary policy measures for price stability" at a meeting on Tuesday. The policy measures may show whether it could salvage the lira. US Futures were trading in the green.


SEBI’s scraps IPO grading; Many questions unanswered

Why was SEBI so keen to scrap mandatory IPO grading (as demanded by corporates) instead of making them effective and pulling up rating companies for shoddy rating?

Market regulator Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has scrapped the idea of mandatory grading for initial public offering (IPO). As Moneylife has pointed out, this move by SEBI is anti-investor. The market regulator has responded to this by saying, "...the decision (to make IPO grading voluntary) was taken in its board meeting on 24 December 2013 and to allege that SEBI did not bother to consult investor association is baseless, erroneous and misleading".


As Moneylife has pointed out IPO grading was advocated by investor activists and associations around 2003 and was reluctantly mandated by SEBI in 2007, only to be dropped six years later. This shows how powerful companies and market intermediaries, once again, used a depressed primary market to successfully lobby for a dilution of investor protection measures.


Here is the article of Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife SEBI Scraps IPO Grading, the clarification from SEBI and reply from Ms Dalal...


The Moneylife article argued that Indian institutions have scant regard for history, so SEBI did not bother to consult investor associations who had fought long and hard for IPO grading. Nor did it bother to examine whether the grading process could be made more meaningful or adequately publicised. Thanks to pressure from powerful corporate lobbies, the IPO grading process was hobbled at the very inception. Investor groups wanted IPO grading to be independent and rating agencies to be paid from the large pool of badly utilised investor protection funds with stock exchanges and the ministry of corporate affairs. This did not happen.


SEBI has written to clarify that the issue of IPO grading was discussed in the meeting of the investor associations held at SEBI on August 21, 2013, in which the investor associations opined that mandatory IPO grading should be discontinued, as it is not serving any purpose in the present form and may be made optional. In fact it was one of the agenda items for the meeting, proposed by an investor association, reads: "Whether GRADING given to IPO/FPO by credit rating agencies is of any help to investor?..... OR should such grading not be altogether done away with?"


While SEBI’s clarification is helpful, the IPO grading issue is a much bigger and SEBI has too many questions to answer.  On this issue, Sucheta Dalal has replied as follows:


1. I was among the activists who worked hard for the introduction of IPO grading. The IPO grading was supposed to be funded through the Investor Education & Protection Fund of Ministry of Corporate Affairs. It was shot down at the last stage by the powerful corporate lobby which influences the MCA. I was a member of the MCA's Investor Education & Protection Fund for six years since its inception and had a ringside view to this lobbying.


2. I then worked at having it introduced through SEBI. The resistance from corporate India was clear all through.  I was a member of SEBI's primary market advisory committee for several years and had a ringside view to this too.


3. To counter corporate objections, the IEPF had discussed with CRISIL, when the late Ravi Mohan was its CEO, how to keep costs low and ensure that grading will not require any further work from the corporate house but will be based entirely on the IPO document. After all, the IPO prospectus is a legal document and is expected to contain all information that an investor needs in a comprehensible manner. Any details that are not available in this manner would impact the grading. Thus, we had worked at countering two issues:  First that IPO grading would involve more work by companies and more clearances. Second, that IPO grading would involve an expense by companies.


4. Those days the IEPF had over Rs385 crore (it is Rs1,000 crore plus today) of unclaimed investor funds, which is being squandered away in advertisements or on seminars and workshops conducted by lobbying associations of chartered accountants and company secretaries. In fact, investor associations have been thrown out of IEPF, underlining the poor state of investor protection and activism in India. Ravi Mohan had agreed to charge as little as Rs2 lakh per rating. All this was junked. 


5. When SEBI finally passed the IPO grading idea, it mischievously ensured that companies will have to pay for the ratings and there was no check on costs.  SEBI itself set up an investor protection fund and the two national stock exchanges have a few hundred crores each in their investor protection funds. This money is used to fund and sponsor seminars and workshops, usually to the benefit of media and not investors. There is no cost-benefit analysis of these events. Only a small part of such huge funds was needed to make the IPO grading independent but this was avoided.  Instead, SEBI has been spending a lot of time in marshalling research and arguments to drop the IPO grading idea.  As a student of statistics, I know that research can always be arranged to give you the conclusions that are wanted. 


6. The rating agencies justify their fees by asking questions and add to the time element too. After SEBI started suspecting that IPO grading is useless, did it pull up the rating agencies for the quality of grading? Was such action, if any, shared with the investors? Did it make an attempt to improve the quality of ratings or make them independent of companies who paid the rating agencies? Surely SEBI is aware that independence of rating agencies is a matter of international debate! Were the above facts presented to your board?


7. Given the events described above, clearly, SEBI is primarily and wholly responsible for ensuring that IPO grading idea was hobbled from the start.


Moneylife: SEBI’s excuse for scrapping mandatory grading is the reported findings of ‘various studies’ that a large number of investors are ‘not influenced by grades’; that plenty of low-grade IPOs received a big response from retail and institutional investors and, thirdly, that IPOs with high grades yielded more losses. In a clear contradiction of these claims, media reports also say that SEBI’s action was ‘a move to uplift the dormant primary market’. It is also unclear how SEBI rejected yet another study which shows that, over time, IPOs with higher grades yielded better price multiples.


The fact is under SEBI’s flawed system, companies were paying for their own rating—leading to charges about shoddy ratings—especially when India’s top rating agency, CRISIL gave Reliance Power a 5-star grade at the peak of the bull run of January 2008.


However, the grading did protect genuine investors, who had no time, or ability, to wade through bulky offer documents to find out what the companies wanted to hide. The simple 5-point grade, based on an expert evaluation of fundamentals by a rating agency, at least, acted as a fact check, even if it did not cover price risk.


SEBI: In this connection it is clarified that SEBI had examined the said study which stated higher grades yielded better price multiples and also noted that the organisation which undertook the said study also highlighted that "IPO grading should not be 'mandatory', but 'recommended' or 'encouraged'.


About 'grading did not protect investors...', it is clarified that the author has not presented any facts in this regard. However, one of the studies on IPO grading highlighted the following:


"The retail investors, for whom IPO grading was introduced, subscribed fully or overwhelmingly subscribed to their portion in as many as 73 out of 86 (85%) 'lower grade' IPOs (IPOs with Grade 1 or 2 were referred as 'lower grade' IPOs). Thus, the study shows that the retail investors are not taking any cues from grading and even QIBs have refused to acknowledge grades. The QIBs have subscribed fully their portion in as many 'lower grade' IPOs. This indicates that grading has not been a factor in investors' decision making process".


Sucheta Dalal:

1. It must also be remembered that SEBI’s mishandling of IPO market in mid-1990s led to hundreds of vanishing companies all after they had raised hundreds of crores form the IPO riddled with false and misleading statements. The vanishing companies scam led to the demand for IPO grading so that fundamental facts and details will, at least, be checked out.


2. With just about three IPOs in the entire calendar year 2013, shouldn’t SEBI be trying to FIND retail investors and understand why they have lost faith in the equity markets? Surely this was more important than dropping IPO grading which was introduced as an investor protection measure after five years of hard work by investor associations?


3. Did SEBI consider way to make IPO grading meaningful and independent by paying raters through its own Investor Protection Fund? Did it consider asking rating agencies to look at price and timing so that the rating is more meaningful? Did SEBI ever question high ratings such as CRISIL’s 5-star rating for the Reliance Power IPO, which killed the credibility of IPO ratings? Your letter indicates that quality of ratings was the issue rather than the need for ratings.


The fact is, SEBI has too many questions to answer for systematically burying IPO grading instead of trying to make it work.


You may also want to read…

SEBI Scraps IPO Grading


Regulator vs Investor Association


With IPOs in doldrums, will SEBI ever understand investor disenchantment


SEBI gets power to search and seizure any premises





3 years ago

thanks for the maiden effort of moneylife especially from ms.Dalal madam hats off please take my case of POA and fight for justice we request as an individual investor affected and victimised by IIFl as well as from Reliance securities we need your help



In Reply to sreenath 3 years ago

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3 years ago

Merchant Banker price the issue according to the promoters.(By charging huge premium). Merchant banker should be made accountable too as they are part of the lobby with companies who come out with IPO. You can also do a study or data anaysis like the IPO which have got lower grade rating have been subscribe from which part of the country. Is it just benami or not you could easily check. If the same investor is subscribing to these below rated issue and then selling them at a later date.

Yerram Raju Behara

3 years ago

credit rating has never been a subject matter of inquest in this country. The country did not learn lessons from the recession debacle of 2007 originating in the US. US amended its laws to bring more transparency and accountability to the rating agencies and this is yet to happen in India. All the international premier rating agencies set their foot in India and carrying on their business merrily. Apart from restoring the best practice of IPO grading from the Investor Protection Fund drawn from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs that is currently being used for Investor Education as suggested by Sucheta Dalal rating and grading should be done on principles of transparency and accountability for healthy investments to grow.


3 years ago

Rating/grading is useless when investing in equities. And investors ought to accept full responsibility for their actions.

Thus scrapping of IPO grading is a step in the right direction.

Vaibhav Dhoka

3 years ago

Before SEBI it was CCI who would veto public issues.It was time very few complaint came,but sooner SEBI reigned capitol market it was BOON to companies broker and other intermediary.Cheating and frauds rules the market and looser is and was always INVESTOR.This action from SEBI is anti investor and was to come back sooner or latter.SEBI's failure is main reason why small investors are shying away from CAPITOL market.

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