Home US Senator reveals allies are spying on smartphone users via Push Notifications

US Senator reveals allies are spying on smartphone users via Push Notifications

Governments around the world, including allies of the United States, have been secretly surveilling smartphone users by exploiting push notifications from popular apps, according to information revealed this week by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the Department of Justice, Senator Wyden warned that unidentified foreign governments have been demanding metadata related to app push notifications from tech giants Apple and Google in order to reveal private information about smartphone owners.

Push notifications, the audible “dings” or on-screen messages smartphone users receive from apps like email, messaging, and social media apps, provide insights into real-time app usage and activity. By obtaining metadata on push notification traffic from Apple and Google, who transmit notifications via their servers, government agencies can potentially identify anonymous app users and tie activity back to specific Apple and Google accounts and devices.

According to a recent Reuters report, sources familiar with the surveillance say that while details remain unclear, both foreign democracies allied with the U.S., as well as domestic agencies, have made requests for push notification metadata, likely to aid criminal or intelligence investigations by connecting online activities to real-world identities.

In his letter, Senator Wyden admonished the DOJ for hindering public knowledge of this surveillance method, which relies on the fact that most smartphone owners are unaware of how integrally involved Apple and Google are in transmitting app notifications. In response, Apple claimed they had been explicitly barred from publicly discussing demands for push notification data until now.

Both Apple and Google stated they are committed to keeping users informed going forward. However, the prevalence of apps using push notifications, from email and messaging to sports and breaking news, means a wide swath of smartphone activity worldwide may have already been caught up in surveillance efforts.

While the scale, duration, and details of the surveillance are still emerging, Senator Wyden’s revelations confirm that governments worldwide are actively exploiting common smartphone functions like notifications to secretly spy on mobile device owners without their knowledge or consent.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Radek Zielinski
Tech Journalist

Radek Zielinski is an experienced technology and financial journalist with a passion for cybersecurity and futurology.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.