ToTok messaging app is the latest tool in government-sanctioned espionage

From time to time you hear about apps that carry some malware used to spy on users. At times, those apps are even associated with governments instead of some rogue hackers or groups. This "digital arms" war is increasing in frequency and audacity that governments seem to be less keen to hide their ties to such apps. The latest to join that notorious club is a messaging app called ToTok and it comes not from China or even Russia but from a country the US considers an ally in the war on terror.

If the name reminds you of the popular and notorious TikTok, the similarity might be intentional. It might also be providential. TikTok has recently been at the center of controversy for being an alleged tool for espionage sanctioned by the Chinese government. ToTok is now under the same fire as a spying tool for the United Arab Emirates.

Unlike TikTok, whose popularity is based more on its whimsical features, ToTok's claim to fame is its availability in countries where more established chat apps are unavailable or censored. It isn't by coincidence that the UAE is one of those. Emeratis have expressed their gratitude, at least based on reviews, for a video and text chat app that finally lets them communicate with family and friends. The app has reportedly been downloaded millions of times on Android and iOS and not just in the Emirates but in parts of Europe, Asia, and even North America.

The app makes claims of safety and security but makes no mention of any form of encryption. ToTok also tracks location and scans for new contacts under the pretext of offering personalized services or connecting with friends more easily. Under the hood, it is sending data to a data-mining firm that, in turn, is reportedly tied to a cyber intelligence, a.k.a. hacking, company DarkMatter. The Abi Dhabi firm is already under investigation by the FBI for spying activities on behalf of the government.

Of course, no one is saying anything definite at this point, with everything based on analysis and anonymous leaks. Even more tragic, however, is the real probability that users will continue using the app despite the risks, all for some convenience and free features.