A US senator said last week that governments have been monitoring smartphone users
Tech giant Apple now requires a court order to disclose data about users’ push notifications, making it more difficult for authorities to obtain certain types of information from the company’s iPhone range.
The policy switch aligns Apple’s terms and conditions with those already in place at Google. The changes were not formally announced by the tech firm, but appeared on an updated list of law enforcement guidelines published online in recent days.
The move comes after Democratic Senator Ron Wyden warned that unidentified governments had sought to surveil smartphone users by tracking push notifications – the system through which a user is notified of receiving a message or update from an app.
Data associated with a push notification could, for example, help governments or authorities link anonymous users of messaging applications to a specific Google or Apple account. Citing an anonymous source with knowledge of the practice, Reuters reported last week that foreign and US government agencies had made data requests to Apple and Google regarding push notification data.
Apple, which along with Google confirmed it had received requests to reveal user data to authorities, said in its updated terms that it would now make information available only “with a subpoena or greater legal process.”
Google, whose Alphabet parent company produces the technology that powers Android smartphones, already had a similar policy in place.
Last week, Wyden said that both companies were “in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps.” He also called upon the Department of Justice to “repeal or modify any policies” that may reduce public debate about push notification surveillance.
Responding to Wyden’s comments last week, Apple said the senator’s inquiries had given it the platform to discuss government monitoring. “In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information,” the company said. “Now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests.”
Google said it agrees with Wyden’s “commitment to keeping users informed about these requests.” The Department of Justice did not comment when asked by Reuters about the monitoring of push notification data, or if it had prevented Apple and Google from publicly disclosing such requests.
Wyden stated that Apple was “doing the right thing” by following Google in requiring a judge’s order to hand over user data to authorities.
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