ToTok, a messaging and voice calling app that was billed as a ‘fast, free, and secure’ way to chat by video or text message, is an Emirati spying tool, a media report has said. It is said to be an alternative to WhatsApp and Skype, and has been downloaded in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. The app, which was made available earlier this year, has millions of downloads from the Apple and Google app stores. Apparently, it gained popularity due to the controversies regarding users’ data surrounding Facebook -- the owner of WhatsApp.
The New York Times, which investigated both the app and its developers, cited a United States intelligence assessment according to which, ToTok is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.
As per research firm App Annie, ToTok is one of the most downloaded social apps last week in the US, and it was among the top 50 free apps in Saudi Arabia, the UK, India, Sweden, and other countries, the report cited recent Google Play rankings. As of now, Google and Apple have removed the app from their respective app stores. Those who have the app installed on their phones will still be able to use it.
According to the report, the firm behind ToTok is Breej Holding which is allegedly affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm. DarkMatter was founded in 2014 and it employees Emirati intelligence officials, former US National Security Agency personnel, and former Israeli military intelligence operatives. The company is under FBI lens for alleged cybercrimes, the report cited former employees and law enforcement officials as saying.