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Apple and Google confirm governments spy on users through push notifications
- A US senator has asked the Department of Justice to let Apple and Google disclose how governments surveil users through push notifications.
- Apple says the federal government stopped it from being transparent about the practice.
- Google has also acknowledged the senator’s plea and said it is committed to keeping users informed about government requests for push notification data.
Government agencies have been spying on smartphone users through push notifications sent out by apps, a US senator wrote in a letter to the Department of Justice on December 6.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has asked the Department of Justice to lift any existing restrictions around discussions of push notification surveillance.
“I write to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to permit Apple and Google to inform their customers and the general public about demands for smartphone app notification records,” Wyden writes in the letter.
He explains that push notifications pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone’s operating system providers. “Because Apple and Google deliver push notification data, they can be secretly compelled by governments to hand over this information,” the letter says. This could tell governments how users interact with certain apps, give them access to a notification’s complete text, and disclose some unencrypted content.
Wyden moved the DOJ to allow Apple and Google to be transparent about the demands they receive from governments regarding push notification surveillance.
Meanwhile, the two companies welcomed Wyden’s letter and acknowledged that push notification surveillance has been happening for a while. Apple even said it was not allowed to disclose government requests for push notification data but will start informing users about it now.
“In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information,” Apple said in a statement published by Reuters. “Now that this method has become public, we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests.”
Google also acknowledged the issue and said it shared Wyden’s “commitment to keeping users informed about these requests.” Google’s transparency report already documents governmental requests for users’ push notification data.