According to American officials and an independent Times investigation, the app is used by UAE officials "to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones".
Since it allows users to stay connected with their family and friends across the world and offers free unlimited video and voice calls, it has received huge popularity especially users in the UAE because the Emirati government doesn't allow the use of communication apps like Skype and WhatsApp.
In the last few weeks, an app named ToTok has surged gaining widespread popularity.
While ToTok's app listing pages claim that the app offers a fast and secure messaging platform, the app doesn't mention it is end-to-end encrypted. The software itself - basically a copy and paste job of the Chinese app YeeCall - is also linked to a data-mining company with ties to Dark Matter that shared a building with the UAE's intelligence agency for a bit.
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USA intelligence has been previously been informed by former National Security Agency staff, who were working for the UAE as contract operatives, about the UAE's spying on American citizens, according to an extensive Reuters report. On Thursday, Google removed the app followed by Apple on Friday. A US intelligence assessment also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining firm.
There are still plenty of spy apps, many of which have been successfully removed from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, but it seems whenever a spy app is removed, another one gets published. However, ToTok users, who already have the app on their phone, can carry on using it.
How ToTok mined personal data?
The UAE is apparently one of the US' closest allies in the Middle East with the Trump administration counting on them as a counter terrorism partner.
They noted that they found no backdoors, no malware, and no exploits in the app.