The concept of religion and technology mixing isn’t something new. Worldwide, religious figures and institutions use large scale websites, servers and chatrooms. These tools, when used by responsible individuals in a regulated setting, can prove beneficial. However, when abused, entire communities of people face exploitation. Such is the case with Muslim Pro, an Islamic prayer app.
Earlier this week, online information magazine Motherboard exposed a list of data-selling parties. In a shocking development, it turns out the United States military routinely buys user data off of Muslim Pro. And none is the wiser.
Muslim Pro offers prayer time alarms and a compass to Mecca for worshippers
The reason why Muslim Pro in general has come under the greatest scrutiny is that it is the biggest supplier of user data. Motherboard’s findings confirmed that the app, which enjoys over 98 million downloads across all platforms, is responsible. Along with Muslim Pro, several other Islamic apps like the dating app Muslim Mingle, and a digital Quran reader were exposed. Also, more secular apps like CPlus for Craigslist and Global Storms (a weather app) proved incriminated too. In the case of Muslim Mingle, the report witnessed firsthand data such as IP address, WIFI router info and Mac Address being transmitted.
The app proudly advertises itself as the most popular Muslim app, and it very well might be. It offers routine services like a GPS compass for prayer directions and timings, along with audio excerpts of the Quran. Unfortunately, this data is sold to X-Mode, which supplies data to the U.S Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
USSOCOM uses two channels to obtain user information, to assist its intelligence
The report exposed Babel Street, a company that analyzes user data, as a culprit. However, the exact extent to which the US military uses the data remains unclear. Furthermore, Babel Street also supplies its Locate X service to the military. This technology has scary implications. It can use consumer data to triangulate precise locations of devices.
As the Economist famously stated in 2017, data is essentially the new oil. Just as corporations and government throughout the past century clashed over the black gold, so too do these data-selling apps. It is just a shame that once again corporate soullessness has taken out the ethical standards behind a faith app.
While all data comes to these sites as anonymous, it is very easy to reveal identities. When the US military uses Locate X (to target drone strikes, gather enemy intel, investigate warzones), they definitely do this. Not surprisingly, in the past decade alone drone strikes gained more lethal force and frequency. These strikes also contribute to heavy ongoing civilian casualties in nations like Afghanistan and Iraq.
X-Mode and Locate X both operate inside and outside the USA, and actively work off purchased data
The most alarming thing about the exposé is the implications they carry. Despite the US military swearing that it cannot work against the constitutional rights of Americans, words don’t mean much. Worryingly, these data breaches time and time again prove the unreliability of such claims. Major agencies, like the NSA, already admit they “spy” on citizens regularly. Even big, high profile tech corporations like Apple, Google and Facebook openly mention their user data distribution policies.
Furthermore, if US citizens do get certain protections, then what about everyone else? Nowhere in any major statements or announcements does the US military exempt any other nations. The Iraqis and Afghans the country wages war against surely won’t have their data anonymized.
Slowly but surely, data and privacy are being traded for war profiteering. So the next time an app signs you up for a faith tool, be mindful of the repercussions. Hopefully, reports like Motherboard’s will gain traction and spread awareness.