Apple discloses government push notification spying

I spy with my little eye.

Digital privacy is a bleak landscape, with everyone and their dog trying to get their hands on your data. The latest disturbing revelation involves foreign governments prodding Google and Apple to provide them with push notification information sent to iPhones and Androids.

Senator Ron Wyden shed light on the appropriately dubbed “push notification spying” after receiving a tip and investigating. During the year-long inquiry, Google and Apple stonewalled Wyden, saying the information was “restricted from public release.”

Secret legal orders compelled the two companies to hand over the data to government bodies, all while keeping hush. Apple is only now talking about it because Wyden made the particulars public knowledge and voided previous prohibitions.

Push notifications reveal more about you than you might think. End-to-end encrypted messages from the likes of WhatsApp and iMessage remain undetectable, even with previews enabled. Still, it’s easy to see the number of messages you’re sending on certain dates, and possibly to whom. It’s also simple enough to approximate habits and locations to form a profile on you.

“Apple is committed to transparency and we have long been a supporter of efforts to ensure that providers are able to disclose as much information as possible to their users,” Apple tells 9to5Mac. “In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information and now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests.”

Now that government agencies will appear on Apple’s naughty list, they might be deterred from sapping data. It’s unlikely to stop in its entirety, though, especially with data being much more valuable than reputation these data.