Per the report, the UAE government used ToTok to learn location data (which was required to access information on the weather), voice and text conversations, and online social connections of its users.
In one such case, a messaging app ToTok gained popularity in the UAE as other apps like WhatsApp and Skype are blocked in the country. On Thursday, Google removed the app followed by Apple on Friday. It appears that UAE residents should return to BotIM.
Released in 2019, the "fast and secure calling and messaging app" ToTok can track nearly every movement, conversation, sound, image, appointment and relationship of the person who installs the application on their mobile device.
But a classified report by U.S. intelligence agencies suggests that ToTok is really a surveillance tool used by the UAE government to track users' locations, follow conversations, identify social connections, and access the media present on devices compromised by the app.
US officials also believe that ToTok's developer, Breej Holding Ltd., is actually a shell company for Abu Dhabi-based intelligence firm DarkMatter, which works with the UAE government.
It was unclear when American intelligence services first determined that ToTok was a tool of Emirati intelligence, but one person familiar with the assessment said that American officials have warned some allies about its dangers, according to the New York Times.
ToTok said the app was temporarily unavailable in the app stores from Google and Apple due to a "technical issue".
Apple and Google have removed ToTok from their app stores after USA officials found it was being used by the United Arab Emirates government to spy on people. ToTok served as a free alternative to these popular apps, attracting users not just from the UAE, but also from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America as its fame grew. The app popped up only a few months ago, and it apparently tracks almost everything about its users inside and outside the UAE.
Patrick Wardle, a security researcher at Jamf who knows Apple systems quite well, and has earlier worked with the National Security Agency and released an analysis of the whole app and how it works.
While, yes, your messaging apps are indeed spying on you, to argue that they were developed specifically for that objective might seem like a stretch. ToTok was also given a boost by Chinese smartphone giant Huawei, which endorsed the app. It's also become widely installed around the world, including in the USA, where it was one of the most downloaded social apps last week. It had asked for permissions like accessing users' mic, camera, photos, and location. Analysts decrypted the ToTok app and the app's "network traffic".
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