Muslim Apps that Work with X-mode Sell Data to the Military Contractors
Current Affairs

‘Islamic’ Apps Gone Rogue: Selling Data to Military

As reported by Vice, the US military buys information about the location and movements of users from various islamic apps. The most popular application associated with this kind of data sale was the service for Muslims – Muslim Pro. People downloaded it more than 98 million times worldwide. In addition, the military buys information from ratings and social apps in Colombia, Turkey, Egypt, and other countries.

Vice found two companies providing data to the US military. The first is Babel Street, the creator of the Locate X service. Access to the service’s database was purchased by the US Special Operations Command — USSOCOM. It is a division of the armed forces that deals with intelligence and counterterrorism. The other data stream comes through X-Mode, which gets the user’s location data directly from the app. Then they sell that data to military contractors.

The Situation with MuslimPro

The number of islamic apps that send data to X-Mode includes the Muslim Pro service, which reminds users when to pray. According to the Google Play Store, the app has been downloaded on Android more than 50 million times.

The scrutiny of how data is used by Muslim prayer apps intensified in November, when a report found that the popular Muslim Pro app was selling data that would later end up in U.S. intelligence agencies.

The latest reports on other similar apps follow the release of a memo from Senator Ron Wooden’s office. It states that Defense Intelligence Agency employees had a permission to request U.S. phone location data five times in the past two years. Using a regular app should not lead to a Muslim being victim to government surveillance.

Motherboard first revealed the X-Mode’s ties to military contractors, which first reported that the popular MuslimPro prayer app sends detailed location data to X-Mode.

New islamic apps include:

  • Prayer Times: Qibla Compass, Quran MP3 & Azan
  • Qibla Finder: Prayer Times, Quran MP3 & Azan
  • Qibla Compass-Prayer Times, Quran MP3 & Azan

The most popular app on this list – Qibla Compass has been downloaded more than 5 million times, according to the app’s Google Play Store page.

Qibla Compass Transmits Data to X-Mode

In early November, Motherboard revealed for the first time that Qibla Compass transmits data to X-Mode. At the time, Qibla Compass’s developer, Appsourcehub company, based in Ahmedabad, India, did not respond to a request for comment. Now, an analysis of Android apps containing X-Mode-related code from ExpressVPN and cybersecurity firm the Defensive Lab Agency confirms and complements Motherboard’s findings.

Motherboard downloaded old versions of islamic apps from APK archive sites, then ran them on an Android phone and intercepted app traffic. This confirmed that the versions of apps available in 2020 did indeed send location data in X-Mode. The current versions available in the Play Store do not transmit such data. In December, Apple and Google banned X-Mode from their app stores after investigating Motherboard Muslim Pro.

Apps Hiding Their Connection to X-Mode

YanFlex, the developer of the CPlus app for Craigslist, also didn’t seem to know that X-Mode worked with the military. A representative of the company said in a comment that this information is most likely untrue. Other companies, notably the creator of the Accupedo step counter, declined to comment on their relationship with X-Mode.

But some apps that collect location data on behalf of X-Mode essentially hide the data transfer. Muslim Pro does not mention X-Mode in its privacy policy and does not provide any warnings during installation. Although it does confirm its collaboration with Tutela and Quadrant, two other location data companies. Iran Social also does not disclose information about the sale of location data.

The current version of Qibla Compass provide data to two other companies – Opensignal and Tutela. Both of these firms are working on testing the network connectivity of phones that have apps with their code installed. Tutela, in turn, sells information to the telecommunications industry.

What Did Google Do?

TechCrunch, which also obtained a copy of ExpressVPN and the Agency’s Defense Lab research, confirmed that one US metro map app with more than 100,000 installs was downloaded from Google Play, despite the app still sending location data in X-Mode. New York Subway, an app for navigating the New York City transit System, requested permission to send data specifically to X-Mode for advertising and market research, but made no mention of its government work. App maker Desonline removed references to X-Mode from its privacy policy shortly after TechCrunch requested comment. Google has confirmed that it has taken steps to remove the app from Google Play.

Motherboard previously found that apps sent to X-Mode did not receive consent to transmit users’ location data. In these latest tests, Motherboard found that the Qibla Finder app started sending data to X-Mode even before the user accepts the privacy policy in the app.

Many Muslims around the world use these islamic applications and trust them. And the fact that someone collects the data about them without their knowledge is at least a violation of their human rights.


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