Govts spying on Apple, Google users via push notifications: US Senator
Washington, Dec 7 : Some unidentified governments around the world are spying on Apple and Google phone users through their push notifications, US Senator Ron Wyden has warned in a letter written to the Justice Department.
The letter said that his office received a tip in 2022 that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone 'push' notification records from Google and Apple.
'My staff have been investigating this tip for the past year, which included contacting Apple and Google. In response to that query, the companies told my staff that information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government,' the letter further read.
Push notifications are the instant alerts delivered to smartphone users by apps, such as a notification about a new text message or a news update. They aren't sent directly from the app provider to users' smartphones. Wyden said that Apple and Google can be 'secretly compelled by governments to hand over this information.'
Last month, Apple sent "threat notifications" to individuals whose accounts are in nearly 150 countries, including in India. Apple is sending a team of experts to delve deep into the issue of some Indian politicians receiving threats notifications last month, warning them of state-sponsored hackers targeting their devices.
The threat notification probe is currently being conducted by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).
'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 in the letter.
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, he added.
The letter, however, did not specify which foreign governments have asked Apple and Google for push notification information. '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,' a company spokesperson said in a statement.
'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,' the spokesperson added.
A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company shares Wyden's 'commitment to keeping users informed about these requests.'
'We were 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 Senator Wyden,' according to Google.