A popular messaging app billed as a secure way to chat with friends and family is actually a spying tool used by the United Arab Emirates to track the activities of those who download it, The New York Times reported Sunday. The app, which debuted only a few months ago, has been downloaded millions of times around the world.
The app is a mass surveillance tool, The Times reported, capable of monitoring every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of its users. The majority of the app's users are in the Emirates but recently surged in popularity in the US.
An analysis and interviews with computer security experts suggest the company behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is a front for DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm that employs Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives, The Times reported.
The app was recently removed from the
app stores, but it's still functional until users delete it from their device.
Apple and Google representatives didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Breej Holding couldn't be reached for comment.
The allegations regarding ToTok come amid heightened concerns over governments secretly using apps to collect information on their targets. TikTok, a wildly popular Chinese app known for its quirky 15-second videos, has been accused of illegally and secretly harvesting vast amounts of personally identifiable user data and sending it to China.
A proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against TikTok earlier this month, and the US government is also reportedly looking into the app for potential security risks. Cybersecurity concerns prompted the US Navy to ban the app from government-issued mobile devices.