Google and Apple removed ToTok app from their platforms following an investigation by the US Intelligence Services (CIA) and from The New York Times Having revealed this could be a spying tool of the UAE government. Although it was launched less than a year ago, the free messaging and calling application already had 9.8 million downloads, not just in the Middle East, but all over the world.
In reviewing the application, Patrick Wardle, a cyber security and privacy expert and research member, found that it would continue to run in the background even after it was closed. ToTok would also have access to the user's microphone, camera, contacts, photos and location. The app promised “safer conversations,” appealing to users in the UAE, since similar apps are blocked by the government, however it used no end-to-end encryption.
Unlike most common surveillance approaches, the application did not use a backdoor or security hole for information. According to the investigation, ToTok is being used to directly spy not only on all its users' interactions, but also on access to their personal data, including their location.
US intelligence services believe the company behind the application, Breej Holding, could actually be a fake organization. Investigators say it could be associated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity company known for hacking on behalf of the UAE government. Breej Holding may also be associated with PAX AI, a data mining company from the same country.
While both Google and Apple have removed ToTok from their platforms, the researchers warn that the application is still functional and recommend its immediate uninstallation.