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Governments are spying on you through your phone's push notifications, Apple and Google confirm
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Governments are spying on you through your phone's push notifications, Apple and Google confirm

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon recently warned that governments are spying on Android and iPhone users through their smartphone push notifications.

On December 6, Wyden sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the agency to allow Google and Apple to inform their customers about government agencies requesting app notification records.

"[M]y office received a tip that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone 'push' notification records from Google and Apple," Wyden told Garland.

"The companies told my staff that information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government."

Push notifications are alerts that pop up from various apps, providing updates about incoming text messages, phone calls, and breaking news.

Wyden noted that contrary to what one might assume, push notifications are not sent directly from the app to the phone but instead "pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone's operating system provider."

"These services ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications, but this also means that Apple and Google serve as intermediaries in the transmission process," he explained.

According to Wyden, Apple and Google have been "secretly compelled by governments to hand over" their users' push notification information.

The technology companies store metadata from the alerts that could reveal information about "which app received a notification and when, as well as the phone and associated Apple or Google account to which that notification was intended to be delivered." Unencrypted metadata may also include the text content of the notification.

In a statement to Axios, Apple confirmed that the federal government has prohibited it from sharing this information with its customers.

"Apple is committed to transparency and we have long been a supporter of efforts to ensure that providers are able to disclose as much information as possible to their users," the company said. "In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information, and now that this method has become public, we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests."

Google told Axios it was "the first major company to publish a public transparency report sharing the number and types of government requests for user data we receive, including the requests referred to by Sen. Wyden."

Google added that it shares Wyden's "commitment to keeping users informed about these requests."

Wyden's letter called on the DOJ to allow Apple and Google to share information about the government requests with its users.

"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," Wyden wrote. "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."

In a post on X, Wyden stated that Google "deserves credit for requiring a court order for US requests" and called on Apple to implement the same requirement for turning over user data.

A source told Reuters that U.S. government agencies and foreign U.S. allies have requested the data from push notifications.

The DOJ declined to comment, Reuters reported.

Anything else?

In a November letter to Garland, Wyden urged the DOJ to release information to the public regarding a secretive surveillance program called Data Analytical, previously referred to as the Hemisphere Project, allowing law enforcement agencies to track Americans' phone records, Blaze News reported.

Wyden called it "a long-running dragnet surveillance program in which the White House pays AT&T to provide all federal, state, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies the ability to request often-warrantless searches of trillions of domestic phone records."

Additionally, the Oregon senator recently released the results of a congressional investigation that found pharmaceutical giants, including CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Walmart Stores, Rite Aid Corporation, and more have been handing over patients' medical records to law enforcement agencies without first requiring a warrant, Blaze News previously reported.

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Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.
@candace_phx →