Christian Prayer Apps Secretly Mine Users’ Data, Sell It To Big Tech: Report

Christian Prayer Apps Secretly Mine Users’ Data, Sell It To Big Tech: Report

A number of popular Christian prayer and devotional apps are secretly mining data on their users and selling that information to Big Tech companies, according to a new report.

BuzzFeed reported Monday that several prayer apps and websites, such as Pray.com, Hallow, Glorify, and Bible Gateway, have been secretly data mining their users’ activity on the site and sharing that data with a number of Big Tech corporations that traffic in data, including Facebook.

The first app Buzzfeed investigated, Pray.com, allegedly collects data on their users in a number of ways: it can track their physical location, the links they click on, and even the text of the things they post on the site. The site then supplements that information with additional info like age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, marital status, income, household size, political affiliation, and interests taken from “third-parties such as data analytics providers and data brokers,” according to the report. The app then reportedly shares that information with third parties, including “advertising, sale and marketing tools” for “commercial purposes.”

“I just have no idea why they would need that,” said “Katie,” a user of the app interviewed by Buzzfeed. Sharing prayers comes with “an expectation of privacy,” said “Jenny,” another user. “Sarah,” another user, said that it would be “exploitative,” “manipulative,” and “predatory” if Pray.com used people’s prayers to sell products.

Pray.com didn’t previously mention the supplemental information bought from data brokers in its privacy policy, but the app updated its privacy to include that language in late December after an inquiry from Buzzfeed. A spokesman for Pray.com refused to say from which data brokers it had purchased data, and to which third parties it has given that data. The spokesman also denied allegations about its purported relationship with Facebook specifically, saying that the company “is not in the business of renting or selling data.” Facebook representatives told Buzzfeed they are investigating the situation.

Despite the company’s denial, an independent audit conducted by privacy researcher Zach Edwards reportedly found that the app did, in fact, collect granular data on the content users consumed, and shared it with several companies, including Facebook. This means that Facebook can use that data to target them with ads. Edwards also allegedly found that data on the content he viewed was shared with Facebook, as well as two other companies, LeadsRX and Branch.io. These companies, called “attribution vendors,” allow the app to track whether their content led to users making purchases. “The Pray privacy policy, combined with the aggressive attribution vendors they partner with, creates a perfect storm to build deeply invasive profiles of religious voters,” Edwards told Buzzfeed, adding that this data could be shared with Facebook, Google, and other tech giants to sell targeted ads.

Other devotional apps such as Hallow and Glorify reportedly have similar policies allowing them to share data with their partners for advertising purposes, and giving them “sole discretion” about when to share that information with outside parties — but representatives for both apps told Buzzfeed that they had not done so. Bible Gateway, which is owned by News Corporation, has allegedly been sharing its users’ information using a proprietary advertising system called NewsIQ, which infers users’ “preferences, opinions and emotions” based on their activity on other sites owned by News Corp.

Buzzfeed’s report comes as multiple states are suing Google over allegations that it used deceptive practices to track users’ location to sell targeted ads without their permission. The Daily Wire previously reported that Washington state, Indiana, Texas, and Washington, D.C., have each filed lawsuits alleging that many of Google’s apps can track a user’s location, even when they have disabled the location feature on their Google accounts.

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