Popular Messaging App Is UAE Spy Tool, Developed by Firm Employing ex-NSA and Israeli Intel Officers

A messaging app downloaded by millions of users in the United Arab Emirates and abroad is actually a spying tool used by the Emirati government, which limits the use of Whatsapp and Skype, according to an investigative report published Monday.

According to the New York Times report, ToTok, which has been available for a few months and became the most downloaded social app in the United States last week, was covertly launched by DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyber intelligence and hacking company that is thought to have lured former Israeli intelligence officers to work for it by offering enormous salaries.

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The FBI is reportedly investigating the firm for cybercrimes. 

The paper describes the move as the "latest escalation in a digital arms race among wealthy authoritarian governments," adding that "governments are pursuing more effective and convenient methods to spy on foreign adversaries, criminal and terrorist networks, journalists and critics."

At the end of last week, both Google and Apple made the app unavailable without providing explanations for the move.

Meanwhile, however, ToTok became one of the 50 most popular free apps in Saudi Arabia, the U.K., India, Sweden and other countries.

DarkMatter, a cybersecurity company formed in 2015 in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates, officially limits itself to cyber defense. But according to a Reuters expose published earlier this year, DarkMatter provides hacking services to the UAE intelligence agency against Western targets, journalists and human rights activists.