Senator Warns Governments Are Spying on Smartphone Users Through Push Notifications

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The push notifications you get on your smartphone during the day may be more than just annoying interruptions, according to one U.S. senator whose office has been looking into them.

Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden released a letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking that the Department of Justice no longer prevent tech giants Apple and Google from releasing information about smartphone app notification records, Reuters reported.

According to the letter, Wyden’s office has been looking into foreign governments requesting — and apparently receiving — information about smartphone users without their knowledge.

The investigation followed a tip Wyden said his office received roughly 18 months ago, in the spring of 2022.

In trying to follow up on that tip, however, Wyden’s office hit a roadblock: both companies told his staff that “information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government.”

Push notifications, the letter explained, are those “instant alerts” a smartphone user receives periodically to inform them of a new email, text message, news update or other information. While users may assume they come directly from an app on their phones, they actually “pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone’s operating system provider.”

Android users receive push notifications through Google‘s Firebase Cloud Messaging, and iPhone users get theirs via Apple‘s Push Notification Service.

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