DOHA: Several people in Qatar have downloaded two popular Muslim apps which have been accused of selling personal data to companies which then sold them to the US military, informed sources told The Doha Globe.
In an investigative report by Vice’s Motherboard, a technology website, it was shown that the US military had purchased the location data of millions of Muslims from around the world which were harvested from two popular Muslim apps.
The two apps are Muslim Pro and Muslim Mingle. Muslim Pro, a prayer app, and dubbed the “most popular Muslim app in the world,” has been downloaded over 98 million times worldwide. It is used to know prayer times, the direction for prayer, verses from the Quran and Islamic supplications.
Muslim Mingle is a dating app that has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
“The investigation found that apps such as Muslim Pro sold personal user information to a company called X-Mode, which obtained location data directly from apps and sold it to contractors. The contractors were then said to have sold it to the US military, which had infamously used location data to target drone strikes using data obtained,” the Middle East Eye reported.
“I am using Muslim Pro. All my roommates in Doha are using it and I know some people in my office are also using it. I am sure thousands in Qatar are using this app. I was very upset and furious when I read that my personal data could be going to the US military. It is a breach of trust,” said Muhammad Uvais, an Indian IT expert working in Doha.
“I like the app because it has several features which other apps do not have. It’s very popular among many Indians,” he added.
Popular in Qatar
A search of Google Trends showed that Muslim Pro is one of the most popular apps in Qatar.
Another IT expert said that Muslim Mingle, too, is popular. “We cannot say how many people in Qatar have downloaded these apps, but a random check shows that hundreds could be using it in Qatar and many must have used it before,” a technology expert told The Doha Globe.
“If the reports about data sale are true, this will definitely compromise their privacy and security,” the expert added.
The homepage of Muslim Mingle displays its app prominently for users to download.
The Motherboard report, which was also carried by Al Jazeera and several other websites, has sparked international outrage, with users taking to social media to vent their ire.
According to Motherboard, US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, bought access to user location data to assist in overseas Special Forces operations.
After the report came out, several people said on social media that they were uninstalling the app after it raised concerns about their data and surveillance of ordinary people.
The app has also received a backlash on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store, where people left negative reviews and warned others not to download it. Using the hashtag #MuslimPro, people shared screenshots of them deleting the app and recommending alternatives.
Motherboard reported that many of the users of apps involved in the data supply chain were Muslim, which is not surprising considering decades of US warfare on Muslim-majority countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
The US military confirmed the news report, according to Al Jazeera.
“Our access to the software is used to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas,” Navy Commander Tim Hawkins was quoted as saying. “We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional and legal rights of American citizens.”
Meanwhile, Muslim Pro said on Tuesday that it had severed all ties with a location technology company that reportedly sold its user data to the US military.