A US senator has alleged that governments have been ‘forcing’ Apple and Google to give details of push notifications that come to iPhones and Android phones. Senator Ron Wyden has written an open letter to the US Department of Justice in which he urged that two major companies should be allowed to be transparent about their legal demands. “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,” Wyden said.
The senator also revealed that he had written to Apple and Google confirming whether governments were forcing them to reveal push notification information. Both companies said that the US government had “restricted from public release”. Wyden said that Apple and Google find themselves in a rather unique position. “Apple and Google are in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps. The data these two companies receive includes metadata, detailing 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,” he said in the letter.

What Apple has to say?

Apple has now confirmed in a statement to 9to5Mac what Wyden had alleged. “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. 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,” said the company.

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are those little pop-up messages that appear on your smartphone, even when you’re not actively using the app they’re from. For instance, a Zomato or Amazon might send you notification about an offer, discount or information regarding your order. Push notifications are typically opt-in, meaning you have to give the app permission to send them to you. This ensures that you’re only receiving notifications from apps that you actually care about. You can also customise which apps can send you notifications and how often you receive them.

Do push notifications include messages on WhatsApp and other apps?

Yes, they do. But you don’t have to worry about WhatsApp or iMessage. Both these services are end-to-end encrypted, which means neither Apple or Google can be forced to reveal that particular information by any government.

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