An Alleged Spy App Puts Apple in a Bind

Wired | 1/8/2020 | Lily Hay Newman
townskey13townskey13 (Posted by) Level 3
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Last month, both Google and Apple removed a popular social messaging app called ToTok from their official app stores. The decisions came after United States intelligence officials told The New York Times that the United Arab Emirates likely uses the app for state surveillance. The report and subsequent research also asserted ties between ToTok developer Breej Holding Ltd. and the Emirati government. But by Saturday, Google had quietly reinstated ToTok in its Play Store for Android. Apple does not seem to have settled on its next steps.

The ToTok imbroglio that both companies find themselves in speaks to the difficulties app stores have in policing their offerings. If an app hides an ad fraud scam behind a puzzle game, Apple and Google can, and do, detect the behavior and remove the listing. But if an app like ToTok calls itself a VoIP calling and messaging app, and does exactly that, there isn't necessarily anything sinister to detect. ToTok’s corporate servers could pipe user data to the government, but that activity would lie beyond Apple or Google’s visibility.

Companies - Time - Issues - App - Itself

"Companies have a very hard time when it comes to privacy issues that aren’t directly observable in an app itself."

It’s a dilemma that Apple and Google have faced before, to a less publicized extent. The secure communication app Telegram has endured numerous, unsubstantiated rounds of accusations that it contains a backdoor for Russian government access. But Apple and Google have never removed the app because of these claims. The massively popular Chinese social communication app WeChat is even more plausibly thought to be a funnel for broad Chinese government surveillance, yet it, too, is available through Google Play and Apple’s App Store around the world. The intelligence community's warning about ToTok—by way of the Times report—is perhaps the most direct and actionable yet, although demonstrably...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Wired
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