ToTok App Is Spying Tool, Says Report

The messaging app ToTok is a spying tool, according to an investigation from the New York Times. The United Arab Emirates government uses it to track the personal information of everyone who installs the app on their mobile devices. The app, which was advertised as a secure way to text or video chat, has been downloaded by millions of users all around the world, although the majority of its users are in the Emirates. In their report, the New York Times describes the app as “the latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments.”

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The Emirates’ government is using the ToTok app to spy on:

  • Terrorist and other criminal networks
  • Critics
  • Journalists
  • Foreign adversaries.

The New York Times’ investigation showed that Breej Holding, the company behind ToTok, is most likely a front company affiliated with the cyber intelligence and hacking firm DarkMatter, currently under FBI investigation. An assessment from American intelligence also found the app linked to data mining firm Pax AI, which also  may be connected to DarkMatter.

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Last Thursday, Google removed ToTok from the Play store as it violated some of their policies. Apple removed the app on Friday, although a spokesman did not specify the particular reason. However, for users that already downloaded the app, they will still be able to use it unless they manually remove it from their phones. ToTok tracks users’ locations, conversations, contacts, and other phone data, as well as information from their microphones and cameras. Mark Mazzetti, Nicole Perlroth and Ronen Bergman wrote in the New York Times,

“It is not clear whether American officials have confronted their counterparts in the Emirati government about the app. One digital security expert in the Middle East, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss powerful hacking tools, said that senior Emirati officials told him that ToTok was indeed an app developed to track its users in the Emirates and beyond.”

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza is a journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout her career, her work has spanned many intersections within the tech industry. At SquareFoot, a New York-based real estate technology company, she wrote about the ways in which technology has changed the real estate industry, as well as the challenges that business owners face when they want to invest in property. At Degreed.com, an education technology website, Aliza created digital content for lifelong learners, exploring the ways in which technology has democratized education. Additionally, she has written articles for The Huffington Post as well as her own content on Medium, the online publishing platform. Aliza’s love of journalism and research stems from the excellent Journalism program at Brandeis University. At Brandeis, Aliza interned as a research assistant at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit “news room without walls”. There, Aliza was paired with an investigative journalist and used academic databases to obtain data on everything from the suicide rates in Bhutan to local Boston court cases. Her last position was as an account executive at Yelp, educating business owners on the power of technology to increase revenue. Throughout, however, her heart remained with tech journalism, and she’s thrilled to be writing for Security Baron. When she’s not keeping afloat of the latest tech trends, Aliza likes to cook, read, and write. A former high school “Class Clown,” Aliza has completed two feature-length screenplays, a pilot, and countless comedic sketches. On her days off you can find her relaxing in Prospect Park, trying the latest flavors at Ample Hills Ice Cream, and spending time with friends and family.

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