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Popular chat app ToTok is reportedly secret United Arab Emirates spying tool – The Verge

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A report from The New York Times has revealed that messaging app ToTok, popular in the United Arab Emirates, is in fact a government spy tool, created for the benefit of UAE intelligence officials and used to track citizens’ conversations and movements.

ToTok launched earlier this year and has been downloaded by millions in the UAE, a nation where Western messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype are partially blocked. It promised “fast, free, and secure” messages and calls, and attracted users across the Middle East and beyond, even becoming one of the most downloaded social apps in the US last week.

But, citing classified briefings from US intelligence officials and its own analysis, the NYT reports that ToTok is really a way for the UAE government to spy directly on its people. Citizens who used the app were sharing messages, pictures and videos, and even their location (supposedly being tracked to provide weather updates) with Emirati intelligence.

The Times notes that this is something of a new development in the history of digital spying by authoritarian regimes. Although many governments routinely hack citizens’ phones, not many set up an ostensibly legitimate app and simply ask for access to their data.

“There is a beauty in this approach,” security researcher Patrick Wardle, who conducted an independent forensic analysis of ToTok, told the Times. “You don’t need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone. By uploading contacts, video chats, location, what more intelligence do you need?”

The Times reports that the company that runs ToTok, Breej Holding, is most likely a front for Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity firm DarkMatter. The app is also connected to UAE data-mining firm Pax AI, which shares offices with the Emirates’ signals intelligence agency.

Breej Holding, DarkMatter, and the UAE government have yet to comment on the Times report, but both Google and Apple have removed ToTok from the Play Store and App Store. The FBI also refused to comment, but a spokesperson for the bureau told the Times: “[W]hile the FBI does not comment on specific apps, we always want to make sure to make users aware of the potential risks and vulnerabilities that these mechanisms can pose.”

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Apple acquires Scout FM app that transforms the podcast experience with smart stations – 9to5Mac

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Apple recently acquired the startup Scout FM, according to a Bloomberg report. The company offers an app that creates smart stations for podcast listeners, bringing a similar experience to radio stations.

An Apple spokesman confirmed the acquisition, but no further details were provided. The report mentions that Apple bought Scout FM earlier this year to enhance its own podcast platform amid growing competition from Spotify.

As we covered once here on 9to5Mac, Scout FM brings a different approach to the podcast experience. Instead of offering individual podcasts, the app creates smart podcast stations based on different topics, such as sports or technology.

Scout FM uses artificial intelligence to identify user preferences and suggest new relevant content. Prior to being removed from the App Store, the app was available for Apple devices and it was also compatible with CarPlay and Amazon Alexa.

Apple has been investing in its Podcasts platform with new features and the production of original shows, as Spotify has been increasingly growing with similar efforts. The company didn’t say how Scout FM will be incorporated into its Podcasts app, but we’ll probably see some new related features beginning next year.

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Epic, Spotify and other Apple critics form coalition to take on App Store rules – CNET

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Angela Lang/CNET

More than a dozen app makers and other companies have joined together to form the Coalition for App Fairness, a nonprofit group that’s taking aim at Apple and its App Store rules. Among the founding members are Spotify, Epic Games and Match Group, all of which have been vocal critics of the fees Apple charges developers. 

“As enforcers, regulators, and legislators around the world investigate Apple for its anti-competitive behavior, The Coalition for App Fairness will be the voice of app and game developers in the effort to protect consumer choice and create a level playing field for all,” said Horacio Gutierrez, head of global affairs at Spotify, in a release on Thursday.

The coalition comes as Apple is locked in a public battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games. Fortnite was kicked off both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store in August after Epic attempted to bypass the 30% fee Apple and Google charge developers. Epic countered by filing lawsuits against both companies. Apple earlier this month raised the stakes further by requesting monetary damages if it convinces a judge that it was within its rights to kick Fortnite off its more than 1.5 billion active iPhones and iPads.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on the coalition. On Thursday, the company published several pages on its website highlighting the benefits of the App Store for users and developers. Apple says the pages provide context for its broader work to support its app store, which now counts more than 28 million developers worldwide, and 1.5 billion devices across 175 countries.

The App Store helps developers “from start to finish — to build, test, market, and distribute your products and grow your business,” says Apple’s site.

The Coalition for App Fairness also released a set of 10 App Store Principles that is says will help “protect the app economy” and ensure that the “benefits of digital technologies are shared by everyone.”

Here is the full list of coalition’s founding members: Basecamp, Blix, Blockchain.com, Deezer, Epic Games, the European Publishers Council, Match Group, News Media Europe, Prepear, Protonmail, SkyDemon, Spotify and Tile.


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Amazon's new Echo Show 10's screen follows you around the room – MobileSyrup

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Amazon has improved the Echo Show 10 in a few critical ways.

The first and most obvious change is a new design that looks like a screen attached to a cylinder speaker. What makes this interesting is that it can swivel in a 360-degree loop to follow the user around the room.

The Echo Show 10 also works as a Zigbee and Sidewalk hub, so it should allow people to connect a wide variety of smart home devices to it.

Since the screen features a 10-megapixel camera for video chatting, Amazon has repurposed it to be a security camera. That means when you are using your phone, you can look through the Echo Show’s camera to see what’s going on in the room it’s placed in.

Much like Facebook’s Portal smart devices, the camera on the Show 10 can also zoom in on users to crop and follow them around the room while they’re video chatting.

The Echo Show 10 starts at $329. The smart speaker’s release date has not been revealed.

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