The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using a messaging app that has been downloaded on millions of phones to track users’ activities and spy on their conversations, The New York Times reported on Monday. Citing U.S. officials, the U.S. newspaper said the Gulf state is using the chat app to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.
The New York Times said the ToTok chat app seems to be the latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments. According to the newspaper, the chat app was introduced only months ago and was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores by users throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. The majority of the app users reside in the UAE.
The UAE TODAY news portal, meanwhile, said Monday the ToTok app has been removed from Google Play and the Apple App Store. It is expected that the app will be shut down completely without giving further details. There was no comment from UAE authorities on the report.
Over the past decade, the UAE has been widely criticized by international human rights groups for suspicion of tracking and imprisoning human rights activists and journalists.