Data sales by Muslim Pro app are ‘a betrayal,’ users say

EMMA ISABELLA


5 periods a working day, tens of millions of phones excitement with notifications from an app called Muslim Pro, reminding end users it’s time to pray. Whilst Muslims in Los Angeles woke Thursday to a dawn notification that go through, “Fajr at 5:17 AM,” users in Sri Lanka ended up minutes absent from finding a ping telling them it was time for Isha, or the evening prayer.

The app’s Qibla compass promptly orients units toward the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia — which Muslims encounter when praying. When prayers are accomplished, the in-app Quran lets users pick up looking through accurately wherever they still left off. A counter tallies the days of fasting all through the holy thirty day period of Ramadan. Listings guidebook users to halal food stuff in their space.

These features make it much easier to exercise the quite a few each day rituals prescribed in Islam, turning Muslim Professional into the most well-liked Muslim app in the planet, according to the app’s maker, Singapore-centered BitsMedia.

But revelations about the app’s info selection and sales methods have remaining some users wondering if the benefit is really worth the hazard.

BitsMedia sells consumer location knowledge to a broker known as X Manner, which in convert sells that information and facts to contractors. X Mode’s customer checklist has included U.S. navy contractors, the tech publication Motherboard very first described very last 7 days.

Mass phone calls to delete Muslim Pro and a individual Muslim matrimony application called Muslim Mingle have due to the fact echoed across social media, resonating between communities that have extended been the target of government surveillance.

Majlis Ash-Shura, a management council that represents 90 New York condition mosques, sent a notification urging folks to delete Muslim Pro, citing “safety and knowledge privacy.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s premier Muslim civil liberties and advocacy team, sent letters to three U.S. Property committee chairs inquiring them to investigate the U.S. military’s obtain of location and motion knowledge of end users of Muslim-oriented applications. CAIR called for laws prohibiting authorities organizations from getting consumer details that would or else require a warrant.

In a assertion, Muslim Pro denied that it sold user information right to the U.S. army but confirmed that it had labored with X Method. Muslim Professional claimed it often anonymized the consumer information it offered, and stated that the corporation planned to terminate its romance with X Method and all other facts brokers.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) explained an investigation into the info broker marketplace confirmed that as of September, X Method was “selling details collected from telephones in the United States to U.S. military services customers, by means of defense contractors.”

“Every single American has the suitable to observe their religion devoid of getting spied on,” Wyden tweeted. “I will keep on to watchdog this announcement and be certain Americans’ constitutional rights are secured.”

X Method did not respond to requests for comment, but reportedly ceased operating with two certain defense contractors named in the Motherboard report. Muslim Professional did not react to questions about whether executives have been informed of what X Method did with consumer data soon after its invest in.

Muslim Pro is seeking to acquire again buyers apprehensive about their privacy. On downloading the app, customers now see a pop-up that states, “media stories are circulating that Muslim Professional has been selling individual data of its buyers to the US Military services. This is INCORRECT and UNTRUE. Muslim Pro is committed to preserving and securing our users’ privacy. This is a issue we choose really seriously.”

Screenshot of firm assertion in Muslim Professional application.

(Muslim Professional application)

Imam Omar Suleiman, a popular Muslim scholar and the founder of Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Study, felt the company’s statement was a deflection.

“There has to be some humility to acknowledge their duty,” said Suleiman. “They need to have reported, ‘Look, we fully messed up. We ought to not have done that. We have to have to be much more cautious. And these are the ways that we’re heading to take to remedy the predicament.’ Alternatively, it looks like the response was just quite defensive.”

BitsMedia was founded in 2009 by Erwan Mace — a Singapore-based iOS developer whose LinkedIn profile displays previous stints at significant tech firms like Google, Akamai and Nokia-owned Alcatel. BitsMedia crafted and made apps for corporate purchasers and an app-discovery provider called Frenzapp, but Muslim Professional is considerably and away the company’s most important achievement.

Mace informed the web site TechinAsia that he introduced Muslim Pro in 2010 soon after noticing how his Muslim pals experienced to turn to the radio, the neighborhood mosque or the newspaper to discover out what time to split their rapidly during Ramadan. By 2017, Muslim Professional experienced been downloaded 45 million instances, piquing the desire of private equity corporations Bintang Money and CMIA Cash Partners. The firms acquired BitsMedia for an undisclosed volume and Mace left the business two decades later.

Muslim Pro offers two versions of its product: a no cost application that is supported by adverts and a paid subscription services for those people who want to prevent observing pop-ups for corporations this kind of as Doordash and Western Union beneath verses for the Quran. The company suggests the application has been downloaded extra than 90 million occasions on iOS devices, and it has tallied far more than 50 million downloads on Android devices, according to the Google Engage in retail store.

In the entire world of totally free apps and world-wide-web providers, the sale and exchange of personal data are not strange. In simple fact, in most circumstances it is what retains free applications free of charge. Fb, Google, Twitter and virtually just about every other organization promote adverts against particular user details in purchase to assist advertisers better focus on likely clients.

Screenshot of ads in the Muslim Pro app

Screenshot of advertisements in the Muslim Professional application

(Screenshot of iOS Muslim Pro application.)

But for several Muslims, the sale of own info by an application that assists them interact with their faith in the privateness of their very own homes feels like a larger personalized violation.

“This is not using area in a vacuum,” Suleiman said. “This is component of a incorrect pattern of crackdowns and all kinds of violations of our civil liberties that have preyed on our most basic capabilities as Muslims.”

Muslims in the United States and abroad have been the matter of mass governing administration surveillance for decades, at moments, for basically practising their religion or collaborating in religion-based mostly things to do.

The New York Law enforcement Division demographics device — a counter-terrorism group introduced in response to 9/11 — surveilled Muslims in and close to the condition to weed out radicalization based mostly on indicators that the ACLU stated ended up “so broad that it appears to deal with with suspicion any person who identifies as Muslim, harbors Islamic beliefs, or engages in Islamic religious tactics.”

Muslim community leaders position to the growth of the U.S. drone application under President Obama, which made use of drones for surveillance and focused killings in Muslim-vast majority nations around the world like Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.

That is why it is so troubling that knowledge demonstrating how often Muslims interact with their faith and wherever they are could conclude up in the palms of the U.S. military, claimed Zahra Billoo, a civil legal rights legal professional and executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Place chapter.

“This feels like a betrayal from within our very own neighborhood,” stated Billoo. “People feel that they need to have been equipped to believe in a enterprise that marketplaces and serves specifically the Muslim community — a community that has been under remarkable assault domestically and overseas — to retain that data private, to be very diligent about who they were advertising it to, if they would market it at all.”

Although Muslim Pro’s knowledge policies are broadly in line with the rest of the tech sector, the use of the app is an indicator of faith and religiosity in approaches that handful of many others are, Billoo reported.

“Our religion can not be assumed from some of the other computer software,” she ongoing. “But if I’m examining Fajr each day on Muslim Pro, then that tells the U.S. navy one thing particular about me.”

Billoo stated CAIR is asking for a congressional inquiry — one that may get responses from the U.S. military services about why the information had been obtained and how they are becoming made use of.

In New York, exactly where NYPD surveillance remains top of intellect in the Muslim community, customers of the Majlis Ash-Shura, the Muslim leadership council in New York, say the application scandal has inspired them to begin speaking about lobbying for statewide consumer privacy laws, akin to California’s Consumer Privacy Act. Members of the management council are no strangers to the concept of authorities surveillance — the group’s previous president, Imam Talib Abdur Rashid, sued the NYPD for surveillance records on himself — but this is the first time it has considered techniques to control opportunity government surveillance by personal corporations.

In the past 7 days, numerous Muslims have sought out much more choices to Muslim Pro, but offered the great importance of geography in calculating prayer instances, it is really hard to uncover apps that will not need to have to accessibility place data. Islamic prayer periods hinge on the place of the solar, with just about every prayer corresponding with various positions. It is why prayer periods change throughout the yr as days get shorter or longer and fluctuate from place to locale.

Calculating prayer instances necessitates inputting the longitude and date into a formulation termed the equation of time, which decides solar time, according to Omar Al-Ejel, a laptop or computer science significant at the College of Michigan who built a prayer time application in 2015 that he proceeds to update. For instance, photo voltaic midday — which is when the sunlight is at its greatest stage — is not usually at 12 p.m. Figuring out precisely what time photo voltaic midday is helps Muslims know when to pray Dhuhr prayer. (In Los Angeles on Monday, Dhuhr or photo voltaic noon is at 11:46 a.m.)

On the other hand, Al-Ejel explained although the stability of the info is not confirmed, applications that do on-unit calculations have a tendency to be far more reliable because site information aren’t routinely getting despatched to a distant server the place it would be unachievable to inform no matter if the data are staying sold or misused.

Some Muslim Professional competition have been releasing statements indicating they do not retail outlet or provide particular info. Athan Pro dad or mum business Quanticapps mentioned the organization does on-gadget calculations and never suppliers or sells any individual information to any server — even though its no cost variation is advertisement supported. Another corporation identified as Batoul Applications — which supplies a suite of compensated and totally free applications, some of which are geared toward Muslims, with no advertisements — also said it doesn’t acquire or offer individual information and facts. The company’s prayer time app is free.

“When it arrives to just about anything spiritual,” Al-Ejel explained, “I really feel like it need to just be implied that you’re not marketing any kind of info.”





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