- Unidentified governments allegedly spy on smartphone users through push notifications on Google and Apple apps, according to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.
- Senator Wyden expresses concern in a letter to the Department of Justice about foreign officials demanding user data from Google and Apple.
- Push notifications, common in various apps, pass through Google and Apple servers, granting unique insights into user activity.
- Apple seizes the opportunity to share details on government monitoring, updating transparency reporting.
- Google commits to informing users about such requests but provides no specifics.
- Senator Wyden urges the Department of Justice to reconsider policies hindering public discussions on push notification spying.
- Source indicates that foreign governments, including U.S. allies, seek metadata to link anonymous users to specific Apple or Google accounts.
- Duration and extent of data gathering through push notifications remain unclear, raising privacy concerns.
- Push notifications, despite being essential, draw occasional scrutiny for challenges in deploying without sharing data with tech giants.
In a concerning revelation, a U.S. senator has raised alarm about unidentified governments reportedly surveilling smartphone users through push notifications on apps provided by tech giants Alphabet’s Google and Apple. Senator Ron Wyden expressed his concerns in a letter to the Department of Justice, revealing that foreign officials are demanding data from these companies, shedding light on a new avenue for government tracking of smartphones.
Push notifications, commonly used by various apps to alert users about messages, news updates, and other important information, are often overlooked by users. However, these notifications typically travel through servers operated by Google and Apple. According to Wyden, this places both companies in a unique position, providing them with insights into the traffic flowing from apps to users and enabling potential government surveillance on app usage.
Senator Wyden urged the Department of Justice to reconsider or modify any policies hindering public discussions on push notification spying. In response, Apple mentioned that Wyden’s letter allowed them to share more details with the public regarding how governments monitor push notifications. The company stated that, given the public disclosure, they would update transparency reporting to include information about such requests.
Google also expressed its commitment to keeping users informed about these requests and shared Senator Wyden’s concern. However, both companies did not provide specific details about the requests or whether they were prevented from disclosing such information by the Department of Justice.
Wyden’s letter, based on an undisclosed tip, suggested that both foreign and U.S. government agencies have sought metadata related to push notifications. The aim is to link anonymous users of messaging apps to specific Apple or Google accounts. While the source did not identify the foreign governments involved, they described them as democracies allied with the United States.
The duration of such data gathering through push notifications remains unclear. Despite being a vital feature for app engagement, push notifications have occasionally drawn attention from technologists due to the challenges of deploying them without sharing data with Google or Apple. This revelation highlights a potential privacy concern, emphasizing the need for transparency and public awareness regarding government surveillance through commonly used smartphone features.