By Jesse Hollington, iDropNews
It looks like a new seemingly-innocuous chat app that has recently become popular may actually be the tool of an oppressive government regime, and this time it’s not China or Russia, but actually the United Arab Emirates that’s coming under fire.
Following an investigation by The New York Times, Apple has removed the messaging app ToTok from the App Store, after the report revealed that the app was actually a spying tool being used by the United Arab Emirates to conduct mass surveillance on its citizens. Google has also removed the app from the Play Store.
According to the Times report, the app has actually been under investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies for some time, and according to sources who were familiar with the classified intelligence assessment, the app was being used to mine data from users’ phones, specifically their contact lists. A localized weather forecast feature was also being used to encourage users to enable Location Services so that the app could track their locations.
“ToTok is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image of those who install it on their phones.” – The New York Times
What’s particularly scary is that the app was downloaded by millions of users around the world in the time that it was available on the App Store, and as one of the only chat apps allowed in the United Arab Emirates, where other apps like Skype and WhatsApp are blocked, and even Apple’s built-in FaceTime feature doesn’t appear on iPhones, users quickly flocked to it on both iOS and Android platforms in that country.
However, over the past few weeks, ToTok also became one of the most download social apps in the U.S., leading to concerns that the UAE government-sponsored surveillance net was being cast well beyond the country’s own borders.
Meanwhile, it appears that U.S. intelligence services have at least strongly suspected for some time that ToTok was being used for nefarious purposes and had, in fact, warned some of its allies about the dangers of the app. According to the Times, a digital security expert in the Middle East also revealed that senior Emirati officials had told him explicitly that “ToTok was indeed an app developed to track its users in the Emirates and beyond.”
If you have already installed ToTok on your device, it’s strongly recommended that you remove it entirely. Fortunately, due to the nature of iOS security, simply deleting the app outright should remove all traces of it; it’s not possible for an app to hide pieces of itself or dig deeper into the operating system on your iPhone or iPad.