The military has also been known to sometimes use location data for intelligence purposes.In November, Vice’s Motherboard tech blog reported that Muslim Pro, a Muslim prayer and Quran app, had sent its users’ location data to a broker called X-Mode that in turn sold it to defense contractors and the U.S. military. Muslim Pro then said it would stop sharing data with X-Mode, and Apple and Google said they would ban apps that use the company’s tracking software from phones running their mobile operating systems.
The new memo for Mr. Wyden, written in response to inquiries by a privacy and cybersecurity aide in his office, Chris Soghoian, adds to that emerging mosaic.The Defense Intelligence Agency appears to be mainly buying and using location data for investigations about foreigners abroad; one of its main missions is detecting threats to American forces stationed around the world.But, the memo said, the unidentified broker or brokers from which the government buys bulk smartphone location data does not separate American and foreign users. The Defense Intelligence Agency instead processes the data as it arrives to filter those records which appear to be on domestic soil and puts them in a separate database.
Agency analysts may only query that separate database of Americans’ data if they receive special approval, the memo said, adding, “Permission to query the U.S. device location data has been granted five times in the past two and a half years for authorized purposes.”
The app has been downloaded over 50 million times on Android, according to the Google Play Store , and over 98 million in total across other platforms including iOS, according to Muslim Pro's website .The news highlights the opaque location data industry and the fact that the U.S. military, which has infamously used other location data to target drone strikes , is purchasing access to sensitive data.