While Google and Apple, the world's two major smartphone OS providers, constantly scan and remove malware apps and spy apps from their respective application download platforms Google Play Store and Apple App store, there seems to be no definite end to such apps, as these apps number in the thousands and millions.
The New York Times is reporting that after an investigation USA officials have declared the app spyware backed by the UAE government. Users that already have ToTok installed on their phones can continue to use the app for the foreseeable future.
One particularly strong selling points it touted among UAE users was, unlike more ubiquitous chat apps like Skype and Whatsapp, ToTok didn't require a VPN and could circumvent restrictions put in place by the Emirati government.
A technical analysis and interviews with computer security experts showed that the firm behind ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm where Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency employees and former Israeli military intelligence operatives work.
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Meanwhile, it appears that USA 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.
ToTok, DarkMatter, and the Embassy of United Arab Emirates in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Apple removed ToTok from its App Store on Friday and was still researching the app. Users who already downloaded the app will still be able to use it until they remove it from their phones.
The company promised to be back "in the near future" with new features such as payment, news, commerce, and entertainment. While they can be used for messaging, they can't be used for video calls.
The officials claim the app was being used for purposes including, but not limited to, data mining text conversations, collecting physical location data of users through location access, and recording audio.
A worker looks at his mobile phone at the newly opened Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on October 27, 2013.
Security firm Objective-See says that it worked with the NYT on the investigation. But life is stranger than fiction in the year of our lord 2019, and now you can thank ToTok for making your worst dystopian surveillance state nightmares come true.