'Disturbed': Bay Area Muslim community appalled after prayer app reportedly tracks, sells user data

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Salaat First, a mobile app that reminds Muslims of when to pray, has been pulled from the Google Play and Apple App stores following reports of misuse of user location data.

"Disturbed, appalled, but not surprised," said Sara Mostafavi, a Bay Area attorney who has relied on technology during the pandemic to keep connected to her Muslim faith.

There is frustration and disappointment among members of the Muslim community across the Bay Area following the news, first reported by Vice, that Salaat First was recording and selling delicate location data to a third-party data broker.

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The company that purchased the data is previously reported to have links to U.S. government agencies ICE and the FBI.

"The US government is obtaining private and personal information about American Muslims under the guise of national security and surveillance. They have a long track record of targeting Muslims and other minorities in this way," said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the San Francisco office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Salaat First is the second such app in as many months exposed for collecting and sharing location data on its users.

Mostafavi previously used "Muslim Pro," that app has since reportedly severed ties with its data partners.

"It's so intrusive, you know, my conversation with God is not information that the government needs by any means," she said.

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Monday, the app's developer, who we believe to be Muslim, posted a lengthy statement to Facebook saying in part:

"There is no evidence that the information shared was sold to the American (government)... I know this news could drive some users to delete the program, and I don't blame them..."

The app has since been pulled from both Apple App store and the Google Play store by the developer, according to a Facebook post.

The news is particularly frustrating for the Muslim community given intelligence failures that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol just days earlier.

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"It's also just jarring that in the days and weeks following the violent insurrection at the Capitol, led by white supremacists and so called patriots, that it is more and more so the case that the government is overly scrutinizing some communities and missing evidence on planning for violence," said Billoo.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a non-profit digital rights group and warns consumers to be vigilant about sharing sensitive user data.

"If you are not paying for something then you are the product, your data is exactly what they're profiting off," said Saira Hussain, an attorney at EFF.

ABC7 News reached out to the developer but has not received comment.
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