ToTok was released only months ago and has climbed the charts to become one of the most popular messaging apps in Britain, India, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, as well as becoming one of the most downloaded social media apps in the U.S. last week.
According to a report by the New York Times, however, the app is actually a spying tool for the United Arab Emirates government, giving it the ability to “track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.” The allegation is based on American officials who were aware of classified intelligence, as well as the NYT’s own investigation.
The app is distributed by a company called Breej Holding. However, investigation indicates the firm is likely a front company associated with DarkMatter, a cyberintelligence and hacking firm located in Abu Dhabi. DarkMatter is staffed with individuals who previously worked for the NSA, Israeli intelligence and Emirate intelligence, and is under FBI investigation for possible cyber crimes.
As the NYT comments, this is a significant “escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments.” Whereas many governments have banned apps like WhatsApp and Signal, since they employ end-to-end encryption, the UAE took it a step further by lulling their citizens into a false sense of security with an app deliberately designed to spy on them and anyone else using it.