Chat App ToTok Is Spy Tool For UAE – Report

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ToTok chat and messaging app that is popular in UAE, is allegedly a spy tool for the government, it is claimed in a report

Google and Apple have removed a messaging app called ToTok from their respective App and Play stores over claims it is a government spying tool.

ToTok touts itself as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text. Although similar in name to China’s TikTok, ToTok has proved to be a popular messaging app in the United Arab Emirates.

But the New York Times has alleged that in fact ToTok is actually a surveillance tool for the United Arab Emirates government.

UAE Arab emirates spy NSA surveillance magnifying glass © gubh83 Shutterstock

Spy tool?

The government allegedly uses ToTok to track conversations, locations, images and other data of those who install the app on their phones, the New York Times reported.

It cited US officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and the newspaper’s own investigation, as the source for its report.

It should be noted that apps such as Apple’s FaceTime, WhatsApp and other messaging apps, have long been banned in the UAE.

It is reported that local media had been promoting ToTok as an alternative for expatriates living in the country to call home to their loved ones for free.

The app itself has been downloaded millions of times (mostly in the UAE), and like other apps, it requests permission to use a user’s location, in order to provide local weather reports, the NY Times article states.

The app also apparently requests access to a phone’s contacts, supposedly to help users connect with friends.

The app also has access to microphones, cameras, calendar and other data.

ToTok response

ToTok has not responded directly to the allegations made against it in the New York Times article, but in a press release just before Christmas, it did admit that the app was temporarily unavailable in the two main app stores due to a “technical issue”.

The developers said they had “equipped ToTok with such high-security standards as AES256, TLS/SSL, RSA and SHA256, to diligently protect the user data. We also implemented a privacy framework that complies with the local and international legal requirements to safeguard our users at all times.”

“As the ToTok momentum continues to grow, some new users have notified us they are unable to download our app in Google Play Store and Apple App Store,” said ToTok.

“Indeed, ToTok is temporarily unavailable in these two stores due to a technical issue,” it said. “While the existing ToTok users continue to enjoy our service without interruption, we would like to inform our new users that we are well engaged with Google and Apple to address the issue.”

It said that Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo phone users can still download the app in the phone maker’s app store.

It also said that Android users can install the ToTok app directly from its official website “as a temporary solution.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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