“Spying on push notifications.” Apple and Google sent push notifications from individual users to governments around the world

by alex

And they couldn’t talk about it because of the US ban

It has long been no secret that governments of different countries, within the framework of their laws, constantly turn to IT giants with a demand to disclose certain confidential data of certain users. It turned out that, among other things, governments can and do request access to push notifications from certain users from Apple and Google. It was called «spying on push notifications».

«Шпионаж за push-уведомлениями». Apple и Google передавали правительствам разных стран push-уведомления отдельных пользователей

Companies previously did not have the right to disclose this information, but the other day Senator Ron Wyden said that such a practice occurs. 

In the spring of 2022, my office received a report that government agencies in foreign countries were requiring the recording of smartphone push notifications from Google and Apple. My staff has been investigating this information for the past year […] 

Push notifications […] are not sent directly from the application provider to users' smartphones. Instead, they go through a kind of digital post office run by the phone's operating system provider. For iPhone, this service is provided by Apple's push notification service; for Android phones — This is Google Firebase Cloud Messaging. These services ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications, but this also means that Apple and Google act as middlemen in the transmission process. 

As with all other information these companies store for or about their users, since Apple and Google provide push notification data, governments can secretly force them to hand over this information

The senator asked both companies to comment on the situation, to which both responded that the information «is prohibited for public distribution» by the US government. As a result, Wyden decided to tell everyone about the problem.  

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He wrote an open letter to the US Department of Justice asking for the secrecy requirement to be lifted. 

Apple and Google should be allowed to be open about legal demands they receive, especially from foreign governments, just as companies routinely notify users about other types of government data demands. These companies should be allowed to generally disclose whether they have been forced to facilitate these surveillance practices, publish aggregate statistics about the number of demands they receive, and, unless temporarily gagged by a court, notify specific customers about demands on their data. I would ask the Department of Justice to repeal or change any policy that impedes this transparency 

What’s interesting is that, regardless of the ministry’s response, Apple and Google, after the situation was made public by the senator, have the right to disseminate the relevant data. Apple has already stated that it will update its reports to include specified queries. 

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