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Can governments use push notifications to spy on you?

Answer: Technically, yes.

A person holding up a smartphone showing multiple notifications on the lock screen.
Apple and Google have confirmed that government and law enforcement might be able to obtain some pretty detailed and even sensitive information on you based on what push notifications you allow on your smartphone. While smartphone makers like Apple and Google can’t access data on your third-party apps, it turns out that they can see any data in push notifications from those apps, because those notifications have to go through them.

The caveat is that those companies can be compelled to hand over that data by requests from governments or law enforcement. This was brought to light recently when U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice detailing his concerns about a tip his office received last spring. The tip reportedly said that foreign governments were requesting push notification data from smartphone makers like Google and Apple.

At first, when Wyden’s office asked Apple and Google for more information the companies stated the information requested was “restricted from public release by the government.” But now the issue has been made public, allowing the companies to provide information on it. “In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information,” Apple said. “Now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests.”