Muslim Pro User Data Scandal – A Betrayal
On the 23rd of November, 2020, The Los Angeles Times reported “Muslims reel over a prayer app that sold user data: ‘A betrayal from within our own community’
By now, if you are a user of the Muslim Pro app, you already know of the scandal. If not, here is a refresher:
Muslim Pro is the most popular Muslim app in the world. It has features that make it easier for Muslims to practice the many daily rituals prescribed in Islam.
The app’s qibla compass shows mobile devices the direction towards the Kaaba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, for the daily prayers. Another feature is the in-app Quran which usefully lets Muslims pick up reading exactly where they left off. The app also has a counter that tallies the days of fasting during Ramadan. Muslim Pro even makes listings available to guide users to halal food in their area.
You can easily see why this app has been so popular among Muslims.
Now it turns out that the app’s maker, BitsMedia allegedly sold user location data to a broker called X Mode. They in turn sold that information to contractors. X Mode’s client list has included U.S. military contractors, the tech publication Motherboard (Vice) first reported last week.Source: Los Angeles Times
According to Motherboard who broke the news first on November 16th,
The U.S. military is buying the granular movement data of people around the world, harvested from innocuous-seeming apps, Motherboard has learned. The most popular app among a group Motherboard analyzed connected to this sort of data sale is a Muslim prayer and Quran app that has more than 98 million downloads worldwide.
Muslims all over the world are denouncing Muslim Pro and some have put forward lawsuits against the tech company behind the app. However, the damage has already been done.
Muslim Pro Denies it Sold Muslim User Data
The day after the Motherboard report, on the 17th of November, 2020, The Straits Times – an English flagship daily of Singapore Press Holdings – reported that the Singapore-based developer of Muslim Pro, Bitsmedia, denied allegations that it is selling Muslim user data to the United States military.
Bitsmedia explained that it will be terminating its work-relationship with its data partners. Miss Zahariah Jupary, Head of Community for Muslim Pro explained:
As one of the most trusted Muslim apps over the last 10 years, we adhere to the most stringent privacy standards and data protection regulations, and never share any personally identifiable information.
According to Motherboard, the US military bought Muslim Pro’s user data through a third-party broker: X-mode. The data is reported to include:
- location information
- user Wi-Fi network name
- information about the phone the app was installed on
Miss Zahariah defended Muslim Pro’s position by explaining that they had started working with X-Mode only four weeks prior to the Motherboard report. However, the question is, why would you work with a data broker in the first place?
The Ultimate Lesson Every Organization Needs to Grasp
I know what you are probably thinking. Even if you are not consciously thinking about it, it’s in the back of your mind. You and many others, including us at MAN are thinking: “ Miss Zahariah, didn’t you read the contract that X-mode presented before you signed it; how could you not know?”
When news broke that Cambridge Analytica illegally collected user data from millions of Facebook users, we all asked that same question. Smart Data Collective explains:
“It’s crucial for other companies to look at Facebook’s example and realize the reactive approach isn’t preferable. Would the social media platform have focused on privacy if the scandal hadn’t happened? Probably not.”
The same goes for Muslim Pro: them cutting ties with X-Mode is futile, the damage has been done, and as mentioned before, why work with a data broker in the first place?
So what’s the ultimate lesson? User privacy should be a priority from the start. As an organization, you can’t just wing it and hope nothing bad happens, because it will and news will come out that will ruin your reputation irreversibly.
Work with third parties that are transparent and clearly define their privacy and user policies. If you are looking to amplify your brand by targeting Muslims online and not have to worry about your user’s personal data being sold, give us a call or send us an email.