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    515. When You Pray to God Online, Who Else Is Listening?

    en-usSeptember 15, 2022

    Podcast Summary

    • The Rise of Online Religion and the Risks InvolvedDue to the pandemic, there has been an increase in the demand for religious apps. However, users must be wary of privacy policies and ensure their prayers are not being shared with third parties.

      The demand for online religion has increased due to the Covid-19 shutdowns, leading to a spike in religious app investments. Prayer tends to boil down to two simple things: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And: “Help me, help me, help me.” This commingling of religion and commerce is not new and has a market opportunity of approximately $126 billion in revenue per year. However, users must be cautious of privacy policies and who else is listening while they pray to God online.

    • Religious Searches Surpass Pre-Pandemic LevelsDespite uncertain times, more people are searching for religious terms worldwide. While the correlation between religion and positive health outcomes is unclear, the pandemic has impacted the social aspects of religious practices.

      Google searches for religious terms rose more than 30% worldwide during the first month of the pandemic, and have continued to stay higher than ever before - even 10% higher than usual. This search trend was observed across all types of countries, rich and poor. While this may not necessarily indicate increased participation or religious activity, research shows that religious belief and participation are associated with positive outcomes such as better mental and physical health. However, there are not many studies on the causal relationship between religion and health outcomes. Bentzen, who studies the economics of religion despite being a non-religious person, hopes that his lack of religious affiliation does not impact his research. One key component of religion, its sociality, was greatly affected by the pandemic.

    • Religious Apps: The Rise of Prayer and Community During the PandemicWith the closure of physical places of worship due to the pandemic, religious apps such as Pray.com have become popular for users to pray and connect with others. The private and intimate nature of these apps appeals to both religious and non-religious individuals.

      Religion and faith are sustained through social interactions, but with the pandemic forcing religious institutions to shut their doors, people have turned to religious apps for prayer and community. Despite the U.S. being an outlier with high religiosity compared to other wealthy countries, Gallup polls show a decline in religious belief and membership in houses of worship. However, the lack of physical gatherings has created an opportunity for religious apps like Pray.com, which offers various prayer features and a social network for users to pray together. Even non-religious individuals like Emily Baker-White are interested in the rise of religious apps due to its intimate and private nature.

    • The Power and Potential Harm of User Data Collection on Social Media PlatformsWhile social media can democratize religion and propel movements forward, it is important to hold platforms accountable for their policies and actions. Be aware of the information you share online to avoid potential harm.

      Emily Baker-White's transition from lawyer, to Facebook and Spotify employee, to journalist sheds light on the power and potential harm of social media platforms and apps collecting user data. As technology continues to advance and shape the religious market, it's important to examine the unexpected consequences that can arise. Historical examples show how new technologies can democratize religion and propel movements forward, but they can also be used for profit and exploitation. With the rise of social media, the intimate information collected from users can be highly valuable and potentially harmful. It's crucial to hold these platforms accountable for their policies and actions, and for individuals to be aware of what they're sharing online.

    • The Privacy Risks of Religious AppsReligious apps may share user data with third-party vendors and have vague privacy policies, so users should be cautious about the personal information they input and who has access to it.

      Religious apps like Pray, Glorify, and Hallow operate on a subscription pricing model and often share user data with third-party vendors like Facebook. While the free versions of these apps are popular, users should be aware of the ways in which their personal information is being collected and potentially used. This mix of profit and prophet motives is not a new phenomenon, as religion has historically embraced new technologies like radio and multimedia presentations. The privacy policies of these religious apps may be cause for concern, as they give the companies the freedom to use data as they see fit in the future. As we continue to put personal information into these apps, it's important to be mindful of the records being kept and who has access to them.

    • The Dangers of Prayer Apps and Personal Data MisuseWhile there is little regulation over prayer apps, users should be cautious in sharing their personal data. Companies must be transparent about their data practices and users should remain vigilant about their personal data.

      The lack of privacy regulation for prayer apps and the potential for misuse of personal data is a concern raised by some experts. While some argue for a free and open religious market, others caution against the potential harms that could result. Despite bipartisan support for digital regulation, there have been few laws passed in the past 25 years. Users are unlikely to read privacy policies thoroughly before using apps, making it important for companies to be transparent about their data practices. Companies like Pray.com claim to prioritize customer privacy, but it remains important for individuals to remain vigilant about their personal data and how it is being used.

    • The Power of Prayer in Connecting with Others and Finding MeaningPrayer can provide a sense of connection and help us recognize our limitations. Making prayer a priority can deepen our relationship with God, leading to more meaningful experiences. Pray.com emphasizes the importance of prayer and has facilitated over 122 million prayers.

      Prayer is about connection, whether it be with God or with those around us. It is a way to remind ourselves that we are not alone. Even for those who don't believe in a traditional God, prayer can hold meaning in recognizing our limitations and seeking help. Developing a deeper partnership with God through prayer can shift it from a transactional relationship to a more meaningful one. Pray.com, a religious app founded by Steve Gatena, emphasizes the importance of making prayer a priority in our lives, with over 122 million prayers facilitated in the last 12 months alone. Gatena's journey to entrepreneurship and creating this app was shaped by personal experiences with both religion and tragedy.

    • Pray.com App: Bridging the Gap Between Millennials and Spiritual ContentPray.com offers millennials a wide range of spiritual content, including podcasts and more, allowing them to connect on their journey of finding meaning and fulfillment in their lives.

      Pray.com, a mobile app launched in 2017, provides spiritual content to millennial Christians through podcasts and other similar resources. The app is mostly free, with a freemium model that gives subscribers access to premium content. The app gained significant popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, with subscribers using it an average of 47 times per month for 5 hours. The founder of Pray.com, Steve Gatena, credits a podcast from a pastor for changing his life, which eventually led to the creation of Pray.com. Gatena realized that there was a significant need for spiritual guidance and content, and Pray.com fills that void for millennials searching for meaning and connection.

    • The Growing Potential of the Religious IndustryThe religious industry is a lucrative market with the potential for significant revenue. Pray.com's mission is to cultivate faith and community through prioritizing prayer, while maintaining the sacred space for their users without selling their data.

      Pray.com operates in the religious industry, which is worth approximately $126 billion per year in revenue. It is a growing industry with huge potential as religion is somewhere between coffee and cell phones in terms of revenue. The valuations of big companies in this space range from $300 million to $3 billion. Pray.com's focus is on growing faith and cultivating community by making prayer a priority in people's lives. They are not in the business of renting or selling customer data to others and work hard to keep prayer time and community a sacred space for users.

    • Pray: Connecting People Through the Power of PrayerPray is a platform where people can share public or private prayers. It does not mine data, but instead focuses on devotional plans. It is not a substitute for church attendance, but can be a supplement for personal growth and well-being.

      Pray is a platform where people can post public or private prayers. The platform studies analytics around content consumption, allowing them to identify the most popular categories. These include daily prayer, Bible teachings, nightly prayers, and gratitude-focused prayers. Pray does not mine people's data or read their prayers, but instead focuses on devotional and daily plans that users engage with. Pray is not a substitute for church attendance but rather a complement that augments and synergizes with it. Additionally, prayer can be seen as the ultimate form of self-care, even though it may be a modern conception. The popularity of the platform suggests there is a large population of the world that believes in the power of prayer for personal growth and well-being.

    • The Benefits & Inclusivity of Pray.comPray.com is a platform for people of all faiths to come together and pray, with measurable impacts on health and life. Despite its name, it welcomes everyone to its inclusive community.

      Prayer has measurable impacts on health and life and many studies have been conducted on it. Pray.com was launched as an inclusive community for people of all faiths, but its virtual mosque fizzled out. Despite the name, Pray.com is not exclusively for Christians, and the founder believes that prayer can benefit people regardless of their faith. For Stephen Dubner, who has explored multiple religions and has respect for all faiths but has chosen not to use the app, the founder still extends an invitation to hang out and acknowledges his fervor as an entrepreneur.

    • The Unintended Consequences of Marketing Religion in the Digital AgeThe pandemic has led to a shift towards the commodification of religion through digital platforms, raising questions about its social power. While some see it as a new way of building community, the unintended consequences of marketing religion can be devastating. The success of this shift towards digital religion will depend on one's faith and the marketplace.

      The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards the commodification of religion in the United States, leading to an unstable space where individuals are competing to monetize religious offerings through digital platforms. This poses the question of whether a digital version of religion has the same social power as its historical counterpart. Some argue that it may crowd out the social benefits provided by traditional religious organizations, while others see it as a new way of building community. Regardless, the intentions behind marketing religion have always been mixed, and the unintended consequences of good motives can be devastating. Ultimately, faith in the marketplace or one's religious universe will determine the success of this shift towards digital religion.

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