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Selling Your Prayers: With These Apps It’s Not Just Between You and God

The most intimate conversations of faith one can have…are being sold across the web.

Credit: Shutterstock / Champion studio

Prayer apps have been used as a handy tool to turn to when someone is in a time of crisis and on the move. With the rise of COVID-19 and many religious services being suspended, they have become increasingly more popular. However, many capitalist moguls of Silicon Valley have also found this as an opportunity to uncover the deepest desires of certain people…infiltrating their most intimate conversations with God. 

Pray.com was an app that Katie (altered name),  a widowed woman whose son went missing and his body was found in the river that flows across her town, would use every time she needed a quick sign of strength passing by the river. The app made it possible for her to express her grief on the go, and even find support within the online community of “prayer warriors” that the app mustered. However,  Pray.com, being a free app, had to gain revenue somehow. As Katie poured out her grief and faith, the app collected the data for it and sold it. 

In its privacy policy, Pray.com does record that it gathers detailed information on its users and shares it with “third parties” for “commerical purposes”. However, in a moment of emotional anguish, many users would not take the time to read through the terms and conditions of the application. 

Pray.com gathers information on the physical location of its users, the links they click on, the texts of their posts. In addition, they also buy third-party information from data-brokers such as one’s “gender, age, religious affiliation, ethnicity, marital status, household size and income, political party affiliation and interests…” – BuzzFeedNews

Before that was an inquiry about this data-sharing/data-selling, Pray.com had not mentioned in their privacy policy anything about purchasing such information from data brokers. This was only added after Buzzfeed reached out for an article in December of 2021. Many, like Katie, would be shocked that such an intimate app should share such information for commercial purposes. 

Credit: Shutterstock/ra2 studio

In addition to that, Pray.com shares very little else. They refuse to share which data brokers they buy their information from, and who they share it with. A spokesperson for the company reassures us that the “users’ public, private, or anonymous prayers and specific content consumption” is not shared with third parties “for commercial purposes.” 

However, it has been revealed that Pray.com does share some content about its users with Facebook, and several other Silicon Valley companies. Doing so, would help these companies target the ads and information they share with these users across the platforms. For instance, if one follows a prayer on Pray.com about recuperating their marriage from ending, Facebook could provide ads that target specifically that because of this data-sharing. 

The blurred ethical lines about sharing one’s prayers in order to profit commercially from it makes it all the more obvious that there is a dire need for new and improved consumer privacy laws, that are easy to comprehend for the average app-user. Many people do not know what they sign themselves up for when blindly accepting any terms and conditions on apps. Intimate conversations with one’s faith should not be exploited in capitalist enterprises, between corporations and tech giants. 

With the pandemic ongoing for the past few years, many have turned to these prayer apps to continue practicing their faith from the safety of their own homes or when services were cancelled. For many, the profit that certain tech moguls see in this opportunity to sell and gain is a loss of the sanctity of faith in the modern age. However, the move online is an unstoppable fact that we must face in the upcoming future. These apps can provided similar safety and familiarity as physical places of worship, but there needs to be a more comprehensive, safer, and ethical assertion of privacy over what people decide to pray about on these applications. 

However, not only are apps becoming more and more personalized with one’s experiences with faith, but iPhones can soon scan you for signs of depression. 

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