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Apple admits to secretly giving governments push notification data

Ars Technica: “Governments have been secretly tracking the app activity of an unknown number of people using Apple and Google smartphones, US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) revealed today. In a letter demanding that the Department of Justice update or repeal policies prohibiting companies from informing the public about these covert government requests, Wyden warned that “Apple and Google are in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps.” Push notifications are used to provide a wide variety of alerts to app users. A friendly ding or text alert on the home screen notifies users about new text messages, emails, social media comments, news updates, packages delivered, gameplay nudges—basically any app activity where notifications have been enabled could be tracked by governments, Wyden said. According to Wyden, many app users do not realize that these instant alerts “aren’t sent directly from the app provider to users’ smartphones” but instead “pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone’s operating system provider” to “ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications.” Data transmitted to Google and Apple 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,” Wyden wrote. Sometimes data shared may include “unencrypted content, which could range from backend directives for the app to the actual text displayed to a user in an app notification,” Wyden warned.”

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