Sen. Wyden Raises Alarm on Smartphone Spying by Foreign Governments



Key Takeaways

  • Sen. Wyden warns of foreign governments accessing smartphone push notification records.
  • Apple and Google pushed to reveal details of these government demands.

Emerging Concerns Over Smartphone User Privacy

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has brought to light a pressing issue concerning smartphone user privacy. In a recent letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Wyden revealed that foreign governments are using their power to obtain push notification records from tech giants Apple and Google. This move could have far-reaching implications on individual privacy.


Push notifications, which include various alerts from apps, emails, and social media, travel through Apple’s and Google’s servers. Government access to these records can offer deep insights into an individual’s app usage and interactions. Wyden’s investigation, prompted by a tip last year, suggests that these demands are not just hypothetical but are actively occurring.

Legal and Transparency Concerns

The letter emphasizes the legal ability of governments, both foreign and domestic, to compel Apple and Google to hand over user data. However, Wyden points out a significant gap in transparency, particularly concerning requests from foreign entities. He urges a policy revision that would allow Apple and Google to disclose such demands publicly, akin to their reporting on other types of government data requests.


Wyden’s letter provides insight into the type of data that can be gleaned from push notification records. This includes the recipient app, timing of notifications, associated phone and account details, and sometimes even the content of the notifications. The specific governments involved in these requests were not disclosed in the letter.

Tech Giants’ Responses and Steps Forward

In response to these revelations, Apple and Google are committed to transparency and user privacy. A Google spokesperson highlighted the company’s history of public transparency reporting, though it remains unclear how specific requests for push notification records are documented. Apple, acknowledging the now-public nature of these methods, plans to update its transparency reporting to include such requests.


Senator Wyden’s letter is a call to action for greater transparency from technology companies, particularly in the realm of government data requests. It highlights a growing concern over user privacy in an increasingly digital world and the need for policies that protect individual rights while maintaining national security.


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