A Democratic senator issued a warning on December 6th, expressing concern that unidentified foreign governments are surveilling iPhone and Android users through push notifications from various apps.
Sen. Ron Wyden’s Letter to the Department of Justice
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), citing information his office received about foreign government agencies requesting access to “push” notification records provided by Apple and Google.
He highlighted the potential misuse of push notifications as tools for spying on users.
Apple and Google’s Role in Surveillance
In his letter, Senator Wyden emphasized that Apple and Google hold a unique position as they facilitate government surveillance by delivering push notification data.
The letter did not specify which foreign governments might have used this surveillance method.
Transparency and Notification
Senator Wyden urged Apple and Google to be transparent about the legal demands they receive, especially from foreign governments.
He emphasized the importance of notifying users regarding government data requests, similar to how they inform users of other types of government demands for data.
Compelled to Share Information
Senator Wyden expressed concerns that governments can secretly compel these companies to hand over push notification data, just as they store other user information.
He advocated for companies to reveal whether they have been forced to facilitate surveillance practices, publish statistics on the number of data requests received, and notify customers about demands for their data unless legally restrained.
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DOJ’s Role in Transparency
Senator Wyden also called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reconsider or revise any policies that obstruct transparency in this matter.
In response, Apple stated that Senator Wyden’s letter had allowed them to provide the public with more details regarding government monitoring of push notifications.
The company acknowledged previous restrictions on information sharing and pledged to update its transparency reporting to include such requests.
Google echoed its commitment to informing users about government requests for user data, emphasizing its transparency efforts.
The Privacy Concerns Surrounding Push Notifications
While most users may need to pay more attention to push notifications, they have attracted scrutiny from technologists due to the challenges of deploying them without transmitting data to Apple or Google.
French developer David Libeau previously raised concerns about the privacy implications of these notifications, referring to them as “a privacy nightmare.”
Addressing Spyware Issues
The article also references Apple’s response to spyware concerns. Earlier this year, Apple released an update to its devices to combat the Pegasus spyware created by the Israel-based NSO Group.
Pegasus had been discovered on an Apple device belonging to a Washington-based civil society group employee.
Apple had filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group, describing it as a “state-sponsored” actor engaged in sophisticated surveillance technologies.
Pegasus and Surveillance Concerns
Apple stressed that while Pegasus had been used to surveil a limited number of individuals, there had been documented instances of its misuse to target journalists, activists, dissidents, academics, and government officials.
The article also highlights the ongoing concerns regarding private companies’ development and use of state-sponsored spyware.
In conclusion, Senator Ron Wyden’s warning about surveillance through push notifications highlights growing concerns about user privacy in the digital age.
It underscores the need for transparency and accountability in how tech giants handle user data and government requests, particularly when it comes to push notifications that are often overlooked but can potentially be used for surveillance purposes.