We live in a world where technology is used almost everywhere, for doing almost everything. Perhaps the most important marvel of technology is that beloved smartphone that you might be using to read this article. It's a piece of innovation that we simply cannot or refuse to live without. From the most basic of functions to the most advanced features, the phone has evolved from being just a device used for telephony to being everything from a music player to a portable camera.
Our dependency on our phones makes manufacturers push the envelope of hardware capabilities and app developers to develop apps for basically everything. Perhaps the most used apps are social media apps which allow us to stay connected with friends, families and even unknown strangers. But we seldom wonder how safe these apps are, because we love being connected. We grant them permission to access our phones camera, microphone, contacts and location. But do we ever wonder what if the app is accessing the information, tapping your conversations and collecting your location data? The apps that do this are called spy apps or spyware apps.
Spyware, spyware everywhere?
While Google and Apple, the world's two major smartphone OS providers, constantly scan and remove malware apps and spy apps from their respective application download platforms Google Play Store and Apple App store, there seems to be no definite end to such apps, as these apps number in the thousands and millions.
Recently, American Intelligence officials found out about a spy app that was disguised as an alternative to Apple's FaceTime app. The app called ToTok has since been removed by both Apple and Google from the Play Store and App Store. However, it was a very popular messaging app in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia where FaceTime and other such user-to-user messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are either blocked or banned due to reasons that range from political to religious.
The popular social media app was found to be a spyware app by American Intelligence officials who suspect that it was likely developed by the UAE government to keep a tab on its citizens.
People in these countries where unlicensed VoIP apps like FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype are banned, who would otherwise resort to VPN networks found ToTok to be a good alternative as it functioned normally. But the spy app reportedly had a more sinister purpose.
The officials claim the app was being used for purposes including, but not limited to, data mining text conversations, collecting physical location data of users through location access, and recording audio.
Spy apps are quite common in countries that either have a king, a monarch, or a military leader or dictator as the head of the state. The governments use the spy apps to keep a tab on its citizens and restrict them whenever there is a chance of an uprising or riot starting against their regimes. 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. Also, the strict laws in many Muslim countries too are a reason for spying on their citizens online activities. This surely raises questions about the citizens' right to privacy, but then again when the spying itself is funded by the government, who would you blame?
ToTok which was originally available to download on both Android and iOS platforms gained a lot of popularity in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and most recently in North America, so much so that the app was being promoted by Chinese Telecom giant Huawei in one of its advertisements. Huawei is again a company that has been alleged to be spying for China by the US government.
ToTok isn't the first spy app. There have been hundreds of spy apps over the years, most of them originating from countries such as China and Russia.
TikTok and other popular apps are also suspected of spying
Meanwhile, another hugely popular app that has recently come under the American Intelligence's radar is TikTok, an app that has more than a billion downloads on Google Play store. The popular video creation app is suspected to be a spy app used by Chinese government to spy on users, particularly in the US and the information is being supplied to China for purposes better known to themselves.
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.
Although developers claim that their apps are absolutely safe and that your data is secure, we may never know. We are so dependant on these apps that we sometimes have no other option but give in. Even established apps like Facebook and WhatsApp have been known to falter and are highly susceptible to hacking. There seems to be absolutely no proper resolution to this problem and when governments get involved, it becomes even more difficult.
For now, if you have ToTok installed on you phone, please uninstall it.