A new report from Buzzfeed has delved deep into the world of Christian apps, demonstrating the lengths they’ll go to acquire and then profit off your personal information. One such entity is the Pray.com app, which has a daily user base of around 10 million people. The app lets you publicly or anonymously post your prayers, so that hundreds or thousands of people can see them and utter a prayer to the Lord, with the prayer warriors coming on heavy for particularly difficult and painful overtures. This app doesn’t just have this feature, but they have other resources available, such as meditations, devotionals, audio bibles, and guided prayer for all sorts of subjects.
Finances. A strained marriage. A dead child, sexual abuse, a bad church, a diagnosis of cancer. Stress. Whatever it is, from the small to the insurmountable, people would pray. And behind the scenes, the app was paying close attention to those prayers. According to their article:
As Katie laid out her spiritual anguish, Pray.com was data mining it, matching her actions in the app to details about her that it purchased from data brokers.
One of the companies that the app sells/shares their data to is Facebook, resulting in people receiving targeted ads on the social media sites depending on what you prayed about. Prayed about a cheating spouse? You might be directed to a book about “Better/ stronger Marriage” Prayed about your weight gain? There is a banner promoting a juicer available on Amazon for only $79.99. Can’t stop fighting with your kids? How about content modules about dealing with anger and a pop-up for CALM, where you can get a therapist in only 48 hours.
And these are not small operations. They recount:
A new Catholic app called Hallow, which offers devotional content with titles like “Overcoming Hopelessness,” announced in November that it had closed a $40 million Series B fundraising round. In December, a similar app called Glorify also raised $40 million. These apps, which also collect extensive information about their users, are backed by some of Silicon Valley’s best-known prospectors
It’s not just apps but websites too. Take The Bible Gateway. Though highly useful, it is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and for years has been making money by mining and sharing people’s personal information, using targeted ads to cover its costs. If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Buzzfeed reports:
Since 2017, (Bible Gateway) has fed data about the nearly 8 million people who have downloaded its app into an ad targeting system called NewsIQ, which infers interests about users based on their behavior across News Corporation apps and websites. NewsIQ claims it can “capture the preferences, opinions and emotions” of users for advertisers to exploit.
This is not a call to stop using those apps, but rather a caution that if you’re going to use them, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into.