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World

U.S. Military extracts data targeting Muslims from over 65 million devices worldwide

  • The United States Military, through a network of innocuous-looking mobile applications and multiple covert data streams, has been extracting an enormous amount of data - notably from a Muslim prayer and Quran application with over 98 million downloads worldwide.
Updated 17 Nov 2020

In the digital age, data has become a sought-after commodity, as it provides an insight into a complete spectrum of socio-economic behavior, including spending patterns, political inclination and voting preferences - which were openly harvested during the Brexit vote and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, as seen in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yet, these blatant lapses in digital security are indicative of the fact that data is treated like another commodity, extracted and sold to the highest bidder; which sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to securing the fundamental liberties of the billions of users on the internet.

As reported by VICE News, the United States Military, through a network of innocuous-looking mobile applications and multiple covert data streams, has been extracting an enormous amount of data - notably from a Muslim prayer and Quran application with over 98 million downloads worldwide.

The report, through public records, interviews and technical analysis, has shown that the U.S. Military utilizes multiple data streams to obtain vast volumes of data - through companies referred to as Babel Street and X-Mode.

Babel Street creates a product called Locate X, and the U.S Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which is a brand of the military tasked with counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and special reconnaissance, bought access to the product to facilitate and assist in special forces operations overseas. On the other hand, X-Mode obtains location (or geo-tagged) data directly from mobile applications, and subsequently sells that data to military contractors in the United States.

A large former monitoring base of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Bad Aibling, Munich. Source: Reuters (2013).
A large former monitoring base of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Bad Aibling, Munich. Source: Reuters (2013).

The U.S. Military has often used geo-tagged location data for targeted drone strikes, as it remains unclear whether purchasing access to sensitive data from cellular and internet devices would immediately translate into a direct military function - yet the fact that this information has been deliberately undisclosed to the millions of users of the targeted applications remains a blatant violation of digital privacy laws, kept under the legislative protections of the Patriot Act.

The applications sending data to X-Mode include Muslim Pro, which sends reminders on prayer times and the direction of Mecca relative to the user's current location - it has been downloaded over 50 million times on Android, with over 98 million downloads across all other operating platforms (including iOS), and its users are predominantly Muslim. In a recent interview with CNN, Joshua Anton - CEO of X-Mode - stated that the company tracks 25 million devices inside the United States every month, with an additional 40 million devices scattered across the European Union, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.

The fact that the United States Military is extracting large volumes of geo-tagged location data through mobile applications majorly being used by Muslims is reflective of the fact that the country has been waging multiple costly wars across the Middle East since decades; as the Islamophobic hyper-anxiety against the Muslim community since the onset of the War on Terror continues to linger.