US Senator: Foreign Governments Pushing for Apple, Google User Data

Senator warns that unidentified governments have made legal demands to access push notification data from Google and Apple users.

Shane Snider , Senior Writer, InformationWeek

December 6, 2023

1 Min Read
Finger pressing bell button to enable notifications.
Olivier Le Moal via Alamy Stock

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said foreign government agencies in 2022 requested smartphone push notification records from Google and Apple.

Many apps use push notifications to notify smartphone users of updates, incoming messages, breaking news, and more. The specific notifications for specific users travel over Google and Apple servers and are stored, giving the companies insights on traffic. Wyden says these records put the companies “in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps.”

Wyden said his office received a tip in 2022 about foreign government spying efforts involving push notifications. But when his office contacted the companies, he was told that US government policy restricts the release of information about foreign government requests.

In the letter, Wyden urges the Department of Justice to repeal or modify policies blocking public discussion of push notification spying.

In a statement, Apple credited Wyden’s letter for giving the company an opportunity to share details with the public about how governments monitor push notifications.

“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 request.”

Related:US Lawmakers Mull AI, Data Privacy Regulation

Wyden said the public should have access to information about their push notification data.

“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,” he wrote. “These companies should be permitted to generally reveal whether they have been compelled to facilitate this surveillance practice…”

InformationWeek has reached out to the Department of Justice and Google and will update.

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About the Author(s)

Shane Snider

Senior Writer, InformationWeek, InformationWeek

Shane Snider is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career as a general assignment reporter and has covered government, business, education, technology and much more. He was a reporter for the Triangle Business Journal, Raleigh News and Observer and most recently a tech reporter for CRN. He was also a top wedding photographer for many years, traveling across the country and around the world. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.

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