According to a report by the online magazine Motherboard, the US military is buying location data from mobile apps that boast thousands of Muslim users, for the purpose of combating terrorism, among other reasons.
The report cited the Muslim Pro prayer app – which has been downloaded more than 98 million times worldwide – as one of the major providers of location data to the US military.
The application provides audio recordings of the Qur’an and reminders for users to pray and read certain Qur’anic verses. It also uses the device’s current location to alert Muslim users when praying.
The data gathered is sourced from Muslim Pro, and other apps with a significant user base in the Middle East, through a company called X-Mode.
X-Mode, along with Locate X, obtains location data directly from the apps, and then sells that data to contractors – in this case the Pentagon.
USSOCOM purchased access to Locate X to assist Special Forces overseas operations.
USSOCOM deals with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance matters.
Meanwhile, the companies associated with the US military – Sierra Nevada and Systems & Technology Research – purchased X-Mode’s user-tracking services.
While the report did not explicitly state that Muslim location data obtained from these companies had been used in military attacks, it did indicate that the Pentagon may have done so in the past.
The USSOCOM contract with Locate X and the additional reports are the first evidence that Americans’ use of location data extended from law enforcement to military agencies.
According to public procurement records, US Special Operations Command spent $ 90,656 in April to access location data provided by Babel Street, which extracts data from smartphone apps.
Babel Street sells a product called Locate X that allows people to select an area within a map, and shows the movement of devices within that area.
The report said: The war has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians during military operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and we do not know of any specific operations in which the US military has used this type of application-based location data.
Unlike Muslim Pro, dating apps, such as Muslim Mingle, also sell location data to X-Mode.
And X-Mode explained that it tracks the locations of users through 400 applications, and all of these applications include a special code that the company can track.
The company pays app developers $ 1,500 a month if their apps have 50,000 daily active users.
X-Mode said: We license our data to a small number of technology companies that may work with government military services, but our work with these contractors is international, and mainly focuses on three cases of use: counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, and predicting future coronavirus hotspots.