Salaat First is the second app in two months that has come under criticism for sharing user data belonging to Muslims with US contractors who are linked to the US security establishment.
An app that calculates Muslim prayer times worldwide, reminding the faithful when to pray, has been storing user locations and selling them to third parties.
Vice News reported on Monday that the location datasets showing the precise movements of its users were sold to Predicio, a French company reportedly linked to a US contractor which can claim historic dealings with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
The news about Salaat First came only two months after the revelation that the US military was collecting sensitive location data through another prayer and Quran app, Muslim pro, along with some others. The US military also had access to apps such as Mingle, a Muslim dating app, a Craiglist app, and a level app used for measuring.
One of the two parallel data streams that the US military uses was relying on “a company called Babel Street, which creates a product called Locate X US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance,” the Vice report from November 2020 said. A company called X-Mode, which was obtaining location data directly from apps was providing the other stream of information.
The reports from Vice note that many of its users whose information has been shared were Muslims. It is highly likely this has been done without their informed consent.
Salaat First has been downloaded more than 10 million times on Android. It is also available on iOS, but only the Android version sends data to Predicio. The app also violates Google's Play Store policies by not asking for a user’s consent to share location data with Predicio, even though an archived policy in their website mentioned it, Motherboard found.
The developer behind Salaat First told Vice that the data collection can only occur if the user had downloaded the application in the UK, Germany, France, or Italy, as per the agreement he reached with Predicio in March 2020. However, many are in the dark about this agreement, and Google has now informed Vice that it would take action after concluding investigations regarding the data collecting claims.
Predicio previously claimed on the company’s website that it was not using “business intelligence data to identify ethnic, religious, or political groups for human tracking or people identification of any sort,” after another Vice collaborative report with NRK on the company.
“Despite saying it does not support use cases to identify religious groups, the statement does not mention that Predicio was collecting granular location data from an explicitly Muslim-focused app,” the recent report noted.
Wawow, a weather app which also shared data with Predicio, told Motherboard that he has cut off the data transfer to the French company.
The news regarding Salaat First “highlights not only the use of religious apps to harvest location data, but also the ease at which this sensitive information is traded in the location data industry,” explained Motherboard’s Joseph Cox, the reporter who has been investigating the data breach.