Popular chat app pulled from Play Store amidst spying accusations (Updated)
Update: December 26, 2019 at 9:55 a.m. ET: ToTok’s cofounders have issued a follow-up statement refuting the claims that the chat app tracks users’ personal appointments and functions as a spy tool built by Israeli officers.
“… our distractors continue to spread misinformation and stir up the “spying” allegations, to vilify our work, to jeopardize our business, even to insult our users by mocking their enthusiastic appreciation of ToTok,” reads the statement. “Here is the fact – since day one, we have built ToTok with user security and privacy as our priority.”
The cofounders go on to say that a former NSA employee has performed a technical analysis and concluded ToTok “simply does what it claims to do, and really nothing more.” No details of the NSA employee’s findings were mentioned in the statement, painting what seems to be a vague and questionable picture of the so called technical analysis.
Still, the cofounders are confident that their app will be reinstated in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. As of this writing, the app is still absent from both.
Original article: December 23, 2019 at 3 p.m. ET: In a sudden turn of events, The New York Times just revealed popular messaging app ToTok is most likely a secret surveillance tool used by the United Arab Emirates government to spy on millions of people around the world. The app popped up only a few months ago, and it apparently tracks nearly everything about its users inside and outside the UAE.
ToTok has been downloaded across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, recently becoming one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States. According to The NYT, the UAE government knows “every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image” of everyone who used the app.
“ToTok is a cleverly designed tool for mass surveillance, according to the technical analysis and interviews,” reported The NYT. “It functions much like the myriad other Apple and Android apps that track users’ location and contacts.”
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The app is officially developed by Breej Holding, but The NYT believes this is most likely a facade, saying ToTok is actually affiliated with DarkMatter: an Abu Dhabi-based cyber intelligence and hacking firm. The firm is made up of Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency (NSA) employees, and former Israeli military intelligence operatives.
The app’s initial success began in the UAE because the local government blocks certain features on apps like WhatsApp and Skype. ToTok even received recent support from Chinese manufacturer Huawei after the company promoted the app in a recent Facebook post.
The FBI is further investigating the situation, and ToTok has since been pulled from both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Users who already downloaded the app will be able to use it until they manually uninstall it from their devices.