Not TikTok but ToTok has today been removed from both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store after serious accusations of it spying on its users.
The New York Times is reporting that after an investigation US officials have declared the app spyware backed by the UAE government. The researchers found that it was used to document personal information about its users including all conversations, whereabouts, relationships, appointments and photos. The developer behind the app, Breej Holding is apparently closely associated with DarkMatter, a cyber intelligence and hacking agency based in Abu Dhabi.
The New York Times also revealed that DarkMatter is already under investigation by the FBI for being a government-backed spyware agency. These and other private companies have long been suspected of spying not on other countries but on their own citizens (of course the US are totally innocent here and can easily throw stones — after all who ever heard of the NSA spying on anyone?).
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. This is all in the background of a crackdown over dissent of their own citizens, “hacking Western journalists, emptying the banking accounts of critics, and holding human rights activists in prolonged solitary confinement over Facebook posts”.
ToTok has issued a statement which danced around the subject, told everyone how wonderful their app was and how it allowed ex-pats to communicate with family easily and stated that with over 30,000 positive user reviews on the two app stores they must be totally trustworthy.
Their app is also fully encrypted (which I’m sure only they have the keys to) and they consider the removal from the Play Stores just a “technical issue” but for those with the app already installed it is business as usual. Of course they have said that it is still available from the app stores on Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo phones.
Google though have removed it from the Play Store after determining that it “violated unspecified policies”. The app was apparently easy to build and is easy for the designers to use for “mass surveillance” in that it can easily track users’ location and contacts — along with all of the other permissions you need to give it to “take advantage” of all its features.
Of course, this may all turn out to be false but the warnings are there and it is up to you whether to believe them or not. At Ausdroid we recommend that if you do have it installed remove it for now and although it can be found elsewhere there must be a reason why Google removed it from the Play Store — there is no indication of Google remotely uninstalling it for you though but we suspect that that may be the next step if this is found to be true.
Of course ToTok would not be the only app in the world that spies on you if they in fact do so as usual take your usual precautions when installing apps from anywhere and make sure you are comfortable giving that app the permissions it asks for — read each warning Android gives you and act accordingly.