Muslim Pro prayer app cuts ties with tech firm after US military buys user data
Muslim Pro, a popular Muslim praying app, told Middle East Eye on Tuesday it had severed all ties with a location technology company that reportedly sold its user data to defence contractors and the US military.
The app, dubbed the "most popular Muslim app in the world", has been downloaded at least 95 million times in 200 countries, according to its website.
The app gives users Muslim prayer times and shows them the direction of Mecca depending on their location. It also provides audio recordings of the Quran and reminders for users to pray and read certain Quranic verses.
Motherboard, a media platform within Vice Media, on Monday revealed that Muslim Pro had sold its user location data to X-Mode, which then sold information to third-party contractors, including defence contractors and the US military.
'We are immediately terminating our relationships with our data partners - including with X-Mode, which started four weeks ago'
- Zahariah Jupary, Muslim Pro
The report also found that US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and special reconnaissance, bought user location data through Locate X, a company offered by Babel Street. Locate X uses location data harvested from apps.
Zahariah Jupary, head of community at Muslim Pro, dismissed Motherboard's report as "incorrect and untrue", but nonetheless said it was severing all ties with X-Mode.
Citing respect for the millions of Muslims using the app for worship every day, Jupary told MEE: "We are immediately terminating our relationships with our data partners - including with X-Mode, which started four weeks ago.
"We will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure that our users practise their faith with peace of mind, which remains Muslim Pro’s sole mission since its creation."
Muslim Pro did not expand on what elements of the report were "incorrect and untrue", and MEE received no response to questions on whether it knew about X-Mode selling user location data to US military contractors and why it was selling user location data in the first place.
Jupary said Muslim Pro had launched an internal investigation into the situation and was reviewing its "data governing policy to confirm that all user data was handled in line with all existing requirements".
Following the Motherboard story, thousands of users took to social media to condemn Muslim Pro, with some deleting the app in protest and promoting alternatives.
US Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard that X-Mode was selling location data harvested from phones in the United States to military contractors.
"In a September call with my office, lawyers for the data broker X-Mode Social confirmed that the company is selling data collected from phones in the United States to US military customers, via defence contractors. Citing non-disclosure agreements, the company refused to identify the specific defence contractors or the specific government agencies buying the data," he said in a statement.
In an interview with CNN in April, X-Mode CEO Joshua Anton said the company tracks 25m devices inside the US every month, and 40m elsewhere, including in the European Union, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Some of the app developers Motherboard spoke to were not aware who their users' location data ends up with.
In 2018, MEE revealed that SCL Ltd, a parent company of Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy firm accused of harvesting the data of tens of millions of Facebook users without authorisation, ran counter-extremism campaigns targeting potential Islamic State (IS) group recruits for the US and UK governments.
US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed at the time that SCL held a contract with the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which was set up in 2016 to "counter propaganda and disinformation from international terror organisations".
Middle East Eye contacted X-Mode for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.