Muslim app sold data to US government-linked firm

Muslim prayer app 'sold users' tracking data' to contractor linked to US government agencies: report
3 min read
12 January, 2021
Salaat First had been downloaded by more than 10 million times on Android.
Predicio is reportedly linked to a US contractor which sold data to federal agencies [

A Muslim prayer app has sold user location data to a company linked to a US government contractor that has then went on to supply sensitive personal information to federal agencies, a report by Vice's Motherboard has revealed, raising more questions about the tracking and monitoring of Muslims via mobile technology.

A large dataset obtained by Motherboard shows the transfer of information regarding Salaat First customers' latitude and longitude, phone model, operating system and time stamps.

Salaat First is an app that notifies users on prayer times, the direction of prayer, and nearby mosques, downloaded more than 10 million times on Android.

Users were shocked to learn that sensitive personal details gleaned from their use of the app had been sold to Predicio, a French data broker.

Hicham Boushaba, the developer of Salaat First, told Motherboard that his app had sold users' location data to the company, which approached him in March 2020 to implement its 'software development kit' – a bundle of codes which enables the collection of location data.

Based on an agreement between Salaat First and Predicio, data collection would only be possible if the user downloaded the app in the UK, Germany, France or Italy.

While Salaat First mentioned Predicio in a privacy policy on their website, mobile users do not see this information when the app asked for their consent to share location data, according to app tests. The app itself had no link to a privacy policy.

Motherboard obtained a limited sample of data from Salaat First from an anonymous source, suggesting the scale of the data transfer could be much larger. Predicio did not respond to request for comment.

A report by Motherboard and Norwegian broadcaster NRK last month shed light on how Predicio was linked to a US government contractor that sells location data to law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

It has not yet been established whether data sold by Salaat First data to Predicio was then sold to the US government contractor.

Predicio's location data SDK is known as "Telescope", according to company documentation, in which the company's vice president of business development Adam Esjmont claims the French data broker builds "the most accurate mobile data products available".

Predicio says it does not "support any governmental, commercial, or private use cases that aim to use business intelligence data to identify ethnic, religious, or political groups for human tracking or people identification of any sort", according to its website.

Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, called on "the owners of all major Muslim applications" to "thoroughly investigate how their companies handle data".

Read also: Rights group warns US Muslims against using apps targeted by military

"Government agencies must immediately stop acquiring user data from popular Muslim digital applications to surveil, spy on or otherwise target the Muslim community in the United States, Europe and elsewhere", he said.

Boushiba, the Salaat First developer, suspended his agreement with Predicio in early December after reading reports of US government contractors use of location data.

We have approached Predicio for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

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