Apple and Google have both taken down messaging services ToTok from their app stores following accusations of government surveillance.
"You don't need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone", Wardle told the New York Times. Most of the app's million of users live in the UAE, but it's popular elsewhere in the world and has seen a surge of demand in the US.
Most popular apps, at some point in time, have been accused of spying on their users. According to recent Google Play rankings quoted by the report, it was among the top 50 free apps in Saudi Arabia, the UK, India, Sweden, and other countries. The abrupt decision came after American officials declared the service was actually spyware backed by the United Arab Emirates government. In fact, the app appeared in one of the most downloaded social apps in the U.S. last week, App Annie revealed. As for the reason behind ToTok's unavailability on Play Store and App Store, the developers say it's a technical glitch.
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Google removed the app last Thursday and Apple pulled it the following day. The positive reviews and the always-growing number of downloads and ratings convinced many to give it a try, especially in a country where similar apps, including here WhatsApp and Skype are completely banned.
"ToTok is temporarily unavailable in these two stores due to a technical issue". However, ToTok users, who already have the app on their phone, can carry on using it.
Recently, American Intelligence officials found out about a spy app that was disguised as an alternative to Apple's FaceTime app.
It pointed out that new users with Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo phones could still download ToTok on the phone maker's own app stores. It had asked for permissions like accessing users' mic, camera, photos, and location.
It's no secret that some messaging apps are favored by authoritarians, but one app may be explicitly designed with spying in mind. If the governments find any hints of an uprising or find someone talking against the authorities, they will be arrested and things will go on as usual.