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Another Muslim prayer app found to be tracking users' locations: Report

Vice's Motherboard reports that Salaat First sold users' data to firm linked to US contractor that works with FBI
Salaat First tracks prayer times based on location of user and also shows direction of Holy city of Mecca (MEE/Faisal Edroos)
By MEE staff in Washington

Another popular Muslim prayer app has been accused of selling users' location data to tech firms that have ties with the US military, Vice's Motherboard reported.

The technology website reported on Monday that Salaat First was selling users' location data to Predicio, a French firm that was previously part of a complex data supply chain involving a US government contractor that worked with the FBI, ICE, and Customs and Border Protection.

Motherboard reported that it obtained a large dataset of raw, precise movements of users of the app from a source.

It said the source was "concerned" that such sensitive information could potentially track Muslims going about their daily lives and could be abused by those who buy and make use of the data.

"Being tracked all day provides a lot of information, and it shouldn't be usable against you, especially if you are unaware of it," the source said.

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According to the technology website, Salaat First was found to have sold the data of users on Android - where the app has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

Hicham Boushaba, the application's developer, did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment but told Motherboard that the data collection only initialised if the app was downloaded in the UK, Germany, France, or Italy.

Boushaba confirmed that the app sent users' location data to Predicio, but said he "decided to terminate the agreement" on 6 December following the scandal involving the popular Muslim prayer app Muslim Pro.

Motherboard reported that while Salaat First's privacy policy on its website did mention Predicio - according to an archived version of the policy from August 2020 - the app itself did not contain a copy or a link to the privacy policy, violating Google's Play Store policies.

A Google spokesperson told Motherboard that "the Play Store prohibits the sale of personal or sensitive data collected through Play apps. We investigate all claims related to apps violating our policies, and if we confirm a violation, we take action."

Predicio briefly took its website down following Monday's report and issued a statement saying it "does not support any governmental, commercial, or private use cases that aim to use business intelligence data to identify ethnic, religious, or political groups for human tracking or people identification of any sort." 

Expanding surveillance on Muslims

Salaat First is the latest in a series of apps geared towards Muslims that has been found to have sold their data to companies that have links with the US government.

In November, Muslim Pro, which had nearly 100 million downloads worldwide, was revealed by Motherboard to have sold its data to data firm X-Mode, which then sold on the information to the US military.

The news sparked international condemnation and reignited debates about the US government's mass surveillance programmes on Muslims in the wake of its "war on terror".

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organisation in the US, called for a congressional inquiry into the possible surveillance of American Muslims and warned members of the faith group to stop using the application. 

"We call upon Congress to conduct a thorough public inquiry into the government's use of personal data to target the Muslim community here and abroad, including whether this data was used to illegally spy upon target Muslim Americans," CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said in November. 

On Monday, US Senator Ron Wyden, whose office has been conducting an investigation into the data broker industry, told Motherboard that Google and Apple "need to ban every one of these shady, deceptive data brokers from their app stores."

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