Governments spying on Apple & Google phone users via push notifications, US senator warns
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden issued a warning on Wednesday about unidentified governments using Push Notifications to conduct surveillance on users of Apple and Google smartphones, according to a report from Reuters.
In a letter addressed to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Wyden expressed concerns that foreign officials were pressuring Google and Apple, owned by Alphabet, for user data. While the details provided were limited, the letter highlighted a new avenue for governments to monitor smartphone activities.
Push notifications are commonly used by various apps to inform users about incoming messages, news updates, and other events. These notifications, signified by audible alerts or visual cues, often pass through the servers of Google and Apple. This unique position grants the companies insights into the communication between apps and users, potentially enabling government surveillance on app usage patterns.
Wyden urged the Department of Justice to reconsider or modify any policies that hinder open discussions regarding push notification spying. Apple responded to Wyden’s letter, stating that the government’s restrictions had prevented them from sharing information earlier. Now that the method has been publicly disclosed, Apple plans to update its transparency reporting to provide more details on such government requests.
“In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information,” the company said in a statement. “Now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests,” Reuters reported.
The DOJ did not respond to inquiries about push notification surveillance or whether it had imposed restrictions on Apple and Google’s communication. Google also did not provide comments on the matter.
Wyden’s letter referred to a “tip” as the information source, and while details about the tip were not elaborated, a source confirmed that both foreign and U.S. government agencies had sought metadata related to push notifications. The purpose was to link anonymous users of messaging apps to specific Apple or Google accounts.
The source did not disclose the identities of the foreign governments involved but described them as democracies allied with the United States, and the duration of such data collection remained unknown.