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Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Photo: Liewig Christian/Corbis via Getty Images

The supposedly secure messaging app ToTok is actually a spying tool being used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to mass surveil its users, the New York Times reports, citing its own internal investigation and U.S. officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment.

Why it matters: The app has been downloaded by millions of users in the Middle East, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and it was one of the most downloaded social apps in the U.S. last week. Its exploitation by the Emiratis is an illustration of how authoritarian governments are increasingly finding novel and more effective ways to expand their surveillance networks and crack down on perceived enemies or dissenters.

What we know: ToTok is said to mine data from users' contacts list and tracks locations by offering a localized weather forecast, much like other Apple and Android apps.

  • It also has access to microphones, cameras and user calendars.
  • The app doesn't claim to be encrypted like WhatsApp or Signal, and its privacy policy notes that it "may share your personal data with group companies."
  • ToTok was removed from the Apple and Google Play stores after the companies were notified by the Times, but users who already downloaded the app will still be able to use it.

The big picture: The Emiratis' exploitation of the app, which is linked to a private intelligence company under investigation by the FBI, follows a pattern of authoritarian countries using digital apps to gather information.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

58 mins ago - World

Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor, succeeding Merkel

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is sworn in by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas in Berlin today. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, succeeding Angela Merkel after 16 years and launching a new era of German and European politics.

Why it matters: Scholz, a center-left pragmatist who served as finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel's last government, will lead Europe's largest economy in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.

Instagram's boss faces Congress' questions on harm to teens

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

The head of Instagram will find himself in Congress' crosshairs for the first time Wednesday in the one area lawmakers have shown they are willing to pass tech regulations — protecting youngsters online.

Why it matters: Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in grilling tech companies on how their products harm children, especially after revelations in The Wall Street Journal about Instagram's potential harm to the mental health of teen girls.

School buses that track your child's location

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

New York City is the biggest school district to gear up for an Uber-like GPS-based system that tracks each pupil's school bus ride, letting parents know where their child is in real time.

Why it matters: For parents, teachers and school administrators, the ability to follow each student's daily commute adds a layer of safety and peace of mind — and helps all parties adjust plans when there are traffic jams, weather problems or other snarls.