Popular chat app accused of being secret spy tool for UAE

Apple and Google removed ToTok from their app stores last week

Messaging app ToTok is actually a tool used by the United Arab Emirates government to spy on its people ⁠— and the app is gaining traction in the U.S., according to a report from The New York Times.

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Apple and Google removed ToTok from their app stores last week, but users who have downloaded the app will still have access to it, according to The Times.

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Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype, which have large U.S. user bases, are partially blocked in the UAE, according to The Verge. ToTok offered users an alternative but asked for their correspondence, photos and even locations — which was actually available to the Emirati government, The Times reported.

The Times' investigation of ToTok included gathering information from U.S. intelligence officials and other experts. The Times also reports that UAE-based cybersecurity company DarkMatter is secretly behind ToTok, which is run by a company called Breej Holding. ToTok is also linked to artificial intelligence company Pax AI, which is housed in the same office building as the UAE intelligence agency, according to The Times.

People walk past the headquarters of Aldar Properties at Al Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi, January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ben Job

The UAE and U.S. are allies.

Fear over ToTok comes after backlash against the similarly-named app TikTok.

A U.S. senator introduced legislation to combat the flow of Americans' data to countries like China in response to the popularity of Chinese-owned app TikTok.

More teenagers are on TikTok than on Facebook, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Fox News in November.

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"Here's the problem: it's owned by a Chinese company, and under Chinese law, that means the Communist Party has access to all of the data that TikTok scoops up," Hawley said. "And it scoops up a lot, like your phone book, like what you do on your phone, it tracks you around the web, maybe your text messages. It's dangerous."

Meanwhile, TikTok is trying to minimize its ties to China as it looks to expand or even rebrand, The Wall Street Journal reported in November.

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