Vice News has released an article stating the popular app Muslim Pro has been, perhaps unknowingly, selling location data to military contractors. Essentially, this means that your information ends up in the hands of the military itself.
Apps can be monetized a number of ways beyond the one-time app purchase or subscriptions. Different types of data can be gathered from your phone by the app. That data can then be sold to others who are interested in harvesting that data for different uses.
In the case of the Muslim Pro app, it’s been found they have been gathering location data from user phones and selling it to the company X-Mode, which in turn sells this to various entities, including military contractors. Regarding X-Mode clients, the Vice article notes:
Those clients have also included U.S. military contractors, Motherboard found. Included in archived versions of the “Trusted Partners” section on its website, X-Mode lists Sierra Nevada Corporation and Systems & Technology Research as customers. Sierra Nevada Corporation builds combat aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, and supports contractor Northrop Grumman in the development of cyber and electronic warfare capabilities for the U.S. Army. Systems & Technology Research works with the Army, Navy, and Air Force according to procurement records, and offers “data analytics” support to intelligence analysts, according to its website.
It’s important to note that the Muslim Pro app isn’t the only app that makes use of X-Mode. As well, many app developers who were available for comment stated that they did not realize their data was being resold for military purposes. Muslim Pro has not yet responded to inquiries with Vice.
By no means is this problem limited to the Muslim Pro app, nor is selling our data to the military the only nefarious use of our data. It is troubling nonetheless to know that this practise is occurring. Irrespective of whether this was or was not done with bad intentions, we should still understand how to protect ourselves from inadvertant breaches like this.
Location Services: Privacy Concerns and a Major Battery Drain
Many don’t realize that having location tracking constantly toggled on by default on one’s phone is a major drain on the device’s battery. Add to that various apps that have asked you to opt in on gathering your location data (which they send to others), and you’re looking at multiple recharges daily, even on brand new phones. Let’s review how you can increase your privacy and battery life.
1. Toggle Location Setting to “Off”
The first is to simply toggle your Location setting to off. This prevents the phone from gathering location data. There’s usually no need for it to be on, and it’s a huge drain. Google will try to sell you (well, they already do) on the possibility of losing your phone and better customization of services. Ignore it. Here’s how you turn it off:
- Android Devices
- Apple Devices
– Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and toggle from On to Off
2. Remove App Permissions’ Access to Your Location
There will come a time when you want to toggle Location on, such as when using a map-based app to travel. You probably don’t want 100 apps sending out your location info while you make legitimate use of location tracking for your personal benefit. You may also want to keep location tracking on your kids’ phones for tracking their whereabouts. Here’s how to prevent specific apps from tracking you:
One caveat to keep in mind – many apps that give you the option of “Only while in use” are still in use even if you’re using another app – they’re sitting in the background until you truly close them out.
3. Turn off Location History Tracking
Google keeps track of where you’ve been if you’re signed into a Google account, have location history turned on, and you have location reporting turned on. They do this on both Android and Apple Devices. To turn off tracking, and to automatically have it deleted:
- Disable and Delete Google Location History Tracking on Android
- Disable and Delete Google Location History Tracking on iPad and iPhone
Apple doesn’t have a good support article describing how to disable Location History tracking under their Significant Locations settings, only delete. Here’s a straightforward article on both deleting the history and disabling tracking:
4. Mask Your Online Activity with a VPN
A vpn (virtual private network) hides your online activity, identity, and location information while browsing or making use of streaming services. Some commercial providers include:
To learn more about VPNs, read this article. Please note that many use VPNs to perform illegal and unethical activity anonymously, such as downloading copyrighted material from torrenting sites – as Muslims, we do not and should not condone such behavior.
5. Turn off Ad Tracking and Location-Based Ads
Based on your online behavior and search history, ads will be targeted at you, and there are location-based ads shot your way as well. Here’s how to turn them off:
- Apple: Turn off ad tracking and location-based ads on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV
- Google: Turn off ad tracking on Android and iOS devices
Please note that this doesn’t prevent you from seeing ads. This prevents advertisers from gathering your personal data and then retargeting ads specific to what they know about you.
6. Turn off Bluetooth
It’s not just for connecting AirPods and Beats headphones. While GPS tracking can get your location over a wide range, its precision is limited. Bluetooth beacons in stores can talk to your phone’s bluetooth and pinpoint your exact location and tell stores how long you’ve been in a particular area. If you’re interested in learning if there’s a Bluetooth beacon in your store talking to your phone, try using the Beacon Scanner.
- Disable bluetooth on Apple
- Disable bluetooth on Google Android:
– Go to Settings > Connected Devices > Connection Preferences > Bluetooth
– Toggle the button from On to Off
We hope that the makers of the Muslim Pro app are more careful with whom they sell our data to. I would recommend they remove any SDK code that sends location data of users to them and others. It can be lucrative to re-target customers by selling their data, but this shouldn’t be done unless the reseller’s partners are thoroughly vetted.
For the rest of us, it’s important to closely monitor how our phone data is used to make money from us. It’s better to have a minimalist approach to phone and app usage and invasiveness. This article isn’t exhaustive in covering all the ways one can truly secure themselves; however, these are some significant steps one can take to begin protecting themselves and their families.
The post 6 Phone Hacks to Stop Muslim Pro from Selling You Out to the Military appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.