Apple changes push notification data policy in wake of spying reports

Two notifications on an iPhone Home Screen
(Image credit: Unsplash / Jamie Street)

Apple has quietly updated its law enforcement guidelines in the wake of reports that governments can use push notifications to spy on people, now confirming it requires a judge’s order to hand over the data to law enforcement. 

Last week, Apple admitted that the government can spy on your iPhone’s push notifications, after a letter from Senator Ron Wyden sent to the Department of Justice revealed foreign officials had examined such data from both Apple and Google. While Wyden wanted to repeal or change the policy that forced Apple’s silence on issues like this, Apple issued a statement confirming that because the method was made public in the letter, it could update its transparency reporting and reveal these kinds of requests. 

Now, Apple has gone ahead and confirmed that it won’t acquiesce to such requests without a court order, as reported by Reuters

The letter of the law

The outlet notes that “Apple (AAPL.O) has said it now requires a judge's order to hand over information about its customers' push notification to law enforcement, putting the iPhone maker's policy in line with rival Google and raising the hurdle officials must clear to get app data about users.” Apple didn’t announce the policy, but instead quietly updated its Law Enforcement Guidelines

A new section titled “Apple Push Notification Service” states “When users allow an application they have installed to receive push notifications, an Apple Push Notification Service (APNs) token is generated and registered to that developer and device. Some apps may have multiple APN tokens for one account on one device to differentiate between

messages and multi-media. The Apple ID associated with a registered APNs token and associated records may be obtained with an order under 18 U.S.C. §2703(d) or a search warrant.” 

While it may be a small comfort to some knowing this kind of information needs to be obtained through proper legal channels, most users will likely be non-plussed that anyone can see their push notifications at all, not least because they often come from apps with sensitive information including messaging and banking apps, health apps, and more. 

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9