A recent Buzzfeed report has revealed that popular Christian prayer and meditation apps like Pray.com, Hallow, and Glorify regularly mine and sell user data. While selling user data for targeted advertising purposes is not an uncommon practice among content sites and apps, some have raised specific concerns about Christian spirituality apps doing so.
The conversation surrounding the ethics of data mining and privacy policies has been ongoing in tech spaces for some time, but some feel increased sensitivity regarding the matter with prayer and meditation apps, given that the data shared in those online spaces can be quite personal.
Christian prayer and meditation apps have been around for over a decade, but they have become vastly more popular in recent years, especially during the pandemic when mental health has become a concern for many. Given a broader cultural trend of increased interest in mindfulness and meditation, a number of faith-based entrepreneurs have risen to provide in-app experiences that they feel are uniquely Christian.
For many users, they find such apps to be a great outlet to help them connect with God and community through prayer. Whether struggling with mental health, grief, or marriage or financial struggles, users utilize prayer apps for encouragement and spiritual guidance.
However, not unlike other tech start ups, creators of meditation apps must secure funding in order to turn the vision for their app into reality. And while some investors may have altruistic intentions for how their resources will be used, creators must still demonstrate the financial viability of any given project—particularly if the app will be offered for free.
When it comes to apps like Pray.com, Hallow, and Glorify, the best way to make a profit is by selling user data to the highest bidder. Advertisers then use this data to create highly targeted marketing campaigns that could appear before users on other applications, such as social media platforms.
Technically speaking, every user agrees to allow their data to be used and sold to third party vendors by signing off on an app’s terms of service, and privacy policies outline what companies can (and will) do with user data. However, since these conditions are outlined in lengthy agreements filled with legal jargon, most users do not read them and are thus unaware of what is being done with their data.
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One privacy researcher noted that these kinds of privacy policies “combined with the aggressive attribution vendors they partner with, creates a perfect storm to build deeply invasive profiles of religious voters.”