Senator Ron Wyden warns that governments across the world are spying on smartphone users via push notifications on both iOS and Android devices.
The US Senator expressed his concerns in a letter to the Department of Justice, saying that foreign officials were demanding the data from Google and Apple, as almost all push notifications travel over Google and Apple’s servers (via Reuters).
This puts them “in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps”, Wyden says. He asked the Department of Justice to “repeal or modify any policies” that hindered public discussions of push notification spying.
Apple says they were prohibited from sharing any information
In a statement, Apple said that Wyden’s tip gave them the green light to share more details on the topic of how governments monitored push notifications. “In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information”, the Cupertino giant said in a statement. “Now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests.”The Department of Justice did not return messages seeking comment on the push notification surveillance or whether it had prevented Apple or Google from talking about it. Google did not return messages seeking comment.
Who’s the source?
Senator Ron Wyden cited a “tip” as the source of the breaking information. His staff didn’t comment further, but insiders confirmed that both foreign and U.S. government agencies have been asking Apple and Google for metadata related to push notifications.
So far, the aforementioned foreign governments have not been named, but the source describes them as democracies allied with the United States. Well, at least this time the public won’t be hearing of Russia and China, right?
The Reuters report recalls the words of French developer David Libeau who earlier this year said users and developers were often unaware of how their apps emitted data to the U.S. tech giants via push notifications, calling them “a privacy nightmare”.