A branch of the US military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance, has been harvesting data from the popular Muslim Pro app.
The innocuous-seeming Muslim prayer and Quran app, which has been downloaded more than 98 million times worldwide, sold granular movement data of people, according to the technology website Motherboard which is part of Vice magazine.
Muslim Pro is listed amongst a number of other apps that are said to have sold data to the US military, including a Muslim dating app, a popular Craigslist app, an app for following storms, and a "level" app that can be used to help, for example, install shelves in a bedroom.
Motherboard found two separate, parallel data streams that were used by the US military to obtain location data. One is the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance. USSOCOM apparently bought the data to assist in its overseas special forces operations.
The second stream obtains data through a company called X-Mode, which gathers location data directly from apps, then sells that data to contractors, and by extension, the military.
While Motherboard acknowledges that it does not know of any specific operations carried out by the US military on the basis of information harvested from Muslim Pro, the suggestion is that data gathered from the app may have been used in any number of US operations in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan where there have been hundreds of drone strikes.
Muslim Pro touts itself as the "Most Popular Muslim App!" and also includes passages and audio readings from the Quran. Another app that sent data to X-Mode was Muslim Mingle, a dating app that has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
In a statement to Motherboard, Navy Cmdr Tim Hawkins, a US Special Operations Command spokesperson, confirmed the purchase and said: "Our access to the software is used 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."