A U.S. senator, Ron Wyden, has issued a warning about unidentified governments conducting surveillance on smartphone users through their apps’ push notifications.
In a letter addressed to the Department of Justice, Senator Wyden expressed concerns that foreign officials were seeking data from Google and Apple. Push notifications, commonly used by various apps, provide audible or visual alerts for incoming messages and updates.
As these notifications often travel through Google and Apple’s servers, the companies gain unique insights into app usage, potentially facilitating government surveillance. Senator Wyden urged the Department of Justice to reconsider policies hindering public discussions on push notification spying.
“Apple and Google should be permitted to be transparent about the legal demands they receive, particularly from foreign governments, just as the companies regularly notify users about other types of government demands for data. These companies should be permitted to generally reveal whether they have been compelled to facilitate this surveillance practice, to publish aggregate statistics about the number of demands they receive, and unless temporarily gagged by a court, to notify specific customers about demands for their data. I would ask that the DOJ repeal or modify any policies that impede this transparency,” Wyden said in the letter.
Apple, responding to the letter, stated that it would update transparency reporting on government requests related to push notification monitoring.
“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.”