Users of the popular Muslim prayer app Muslim Pro are posting negative reviews and taking to Twitter to discuss their disappointment after a news report revealed the app was selling users’ information to companies and government agencies. An investigation and report by Vice’s Motherboard found that the app sold location data and other personal information to a third-party broker called X-Mode. X-Mode later sold that same data to defense contractors that provide information to agencies like the U.S. military.
In describing its business with military contractors, X-Mode told Vice it “primarily focused on three use cases: counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and predicting future COVID-19 hotspots.” Downloaded by more than 98 million Muslims from around the world, Muslim Pro is a commonly used Islamic app that alerts Muslims to prayer times, Quranic verses, and other practices. Vice reported the app’s information, including user location data, was shared with U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a military branch that deals with counterterrorism to assist overseas forces operations. While the U.S. military and other government agencies have been known to purchase private information gathered from apps around the world by third-party brokers. Muslim Pro was listed as the most popular app found to make money by selling user data in Vice’s Motherboard report.
The report used data from public records, interviews with developers, and technical analysis to come to this conclusion. It also noted that some companies obtain app location data when advertisers pay to insert their ads into people’s browsing sessions. It comes as the latest report shedding light on how government agencies go to private data brokers in efforts to collect data on individuals is made public
According to Business Insider, the practice has come under fire multiple times by advocates and lawmakers for its use by the Department of Homeland Security to get information on individuals who are undocumented. Representatives of the U.S. military confirmed their purchase of this type of data to Business Insider “to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas.”
“We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional and legal rights of American citizens,” Navy Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman, said. Business Insider noted that such purchases on behalf of the Department of Defense are important because smartphone data has often been used to both plan and execute military operations. According to the outlet, different types of location data from smartphones have been used to carry out drone strikes amid other operations against suspected terrorists. Since the app in question is used by those who identify as Muslim, the question of whether this information is being used to target Muslims arises, especially amid the ongoing war on terror the U.S. has waged on predominately Muslim countries, killing thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq as a result.
Upon the news going viral Monday, app users shared negative reviews and urged individuals to either not download it or delete it should they already have the app.
While Muslim Pro has since dismissed the report as false, it did not deny allegations that it had ties to X-Mode. Following the publication of the Vice report, Muslim Pro has apparently severed ties with X-Mode. Additionally, it said it would conduct an internal investigation into the issue.
“Since we were made aware of the situation, we have launched an internal investigation and are reviewing our data governance policy to confirm that all user data was handled in line with all existing requirements,” Zahariah Jupary, Muslim Pro head of community, said. “We will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure that our users practice their faith with peace of mind, which remains Muslim Pro’s sole mission since its creation.”
Despite Muslim Pro claiming the news is “untrue” that they have not shared user information, under the hashtag #MuslimPro people shared screenshots deleting the app and recommending alternatives throughout the week.