‘Chatapp ToTok is United Arab Emirates spy tool’

A chat app that is particularly popular in the Middle East, but also has users in the US and Europe, turns out to be a spy tool from the United Arab Emirates that can monitor users.

According to the New York Times, installing the ToTok app on your smartphone gives the government of the United Arab Emirates access to conversations, locations, appointments, sound and images on the device. The app has millions of downloads from Apple and Google app stores, mainly in the UAE itself, but also in Europe, Africa and North America. The NYT cites statistics from research firm App Annie, which would show that ToTok was one of the most popular social apps in the US last week.

The paper relies on technical analysis and interviews with security experts for the claim that ToTok creator Breej Holding is likely affiliated with DarkMatter and Pax AI. DarkMatter is said to be a cyber intelligence company under investigation by the FBI for criminal activity, and Pax AI is a data mining company with ties to DarkMatter. Pax AI is located in the same building in Abu Dhabi as the UAE’s intelligence agency and DarkMatter was in the same location until recently. US intelligence agencies are said to have concluded that the app is a UAE spy tool.

The app itself appears to be a copy of the Chinese voip app YeeCall, adapted for the Anglophone and Arabic market. In the United Arab Emirates, the attraction would lie in the fact that functionality of this app is not blocked, as is the case with WhatsApp and Skype. Apple and Google have since removed the app from their stores.