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Google removes alleged spying app ToTok from the Play Store for a second time

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Google has removed the chat app ToTok, which is allegedly an espionage tool for the United Arab Emirates, from the Play Store for a second time. ToTok was allegedly used by the country to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image of those who install it on their phones, 9to5Google reported on Friday. The app was previously pulled from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store in December, shortly before The New York Times published a report about it. Google quietly reinstated the app in January. The app appears to have remained unavailable on the App Store.

ToTok is a messaging app that promised “fast, free, and secure” messages and calls and was downloaded by millions in the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East. Shortly before its removal from the Play Store and App Store in December, the app was one of the most-downloaded social apps in the US. But the NYT’s investigation found that the app allowed the UAE government to spy on users.

ToTok denied the “vicious rumors” in a statement published in December, saying that “[n]ot only do we respect privacy and ensure security, our users also have the complete control over what data they want to share at their own discretion.”

An investigation by NYT found that the firm behind ToTok is known as Breej Holding which is a front firm affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyberintelligence and hacking firm.

DarkMatter is already under an FBI investigation for possible cybercrimes.

Earlier, the probe also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data-mining firm that appears to be tied to DarkMatter.

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India Govt’s ‘Aarogya Setu’ App Crosses 5 Million Installs in 3 Days

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The Aarogya Setu app has got 5 million downloads in just three days of launch on Google Play Store. It has also become one of the top free apps in India on both Google Play and the App Store.

This is a COVID-19 tracking app, the app essentially helps users identify whether they are at risk of COVID-19 infection, by checking if the user has come into contact with an infected person knowingly or unknowingly. The Indian government launched the Aarogya Setu app on Android and iOS a few days ago. Uses Bluetooth and location to track your interaction with someone who could have been tested coronavirus positive.

The Aarogya Setu app is considered to be the official source of all coronavirus-related information and an important tool to curb the spread of COVID-19. It is being encouraged for use through several different means by the government, and one of them is schools. With this app, the government aims to make people more aware of the spread of the Covid-19 cases in India, by informing the citizens with relevant information. The Government is promoting it through several venues, one of the important ones being schools. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE board) has asked all schools and institutions to urge students, teachers, parents, staff, and others to install the app.

The Aarogya Setu app supports 11 languages including Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, and English to help the diverse population across states gain access without difficulty. Once you have downloaded the app, you need to register with your mobile number. Then the app will have to ask you to enter your health stats and other details. To enable tracking, you will have to keep your GPS/location and Bluetooth services on.

In just three days of launch, the Aarogya Setu app has got 5 million downloads on Google Play Store. Arnab Kumar, Program Director of Frontier Technologies at NITI Aayog, has also tweeted that the app has managed to gain close to 8 million installs in just three days of launch. It has also become one of the top free apps in India on both Google Play and the App Store. Even though the App Store does not reveal the number of downloads of the app, Aarogya Setu can be seen on the top spot in the Health and Fitness section, and the Free Apps section.
You can download the app from Google Play Store or App Store for free.

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Google to publish user location data to help governments tackle virus

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PARIS — Google will publish location data from its users around the world from Friday to allow governments to gauge the effectiveness of social distancing measures put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech giant said.

The reports on users’ movements in 131 countries will be made available on a special website and will “chart movement trends over time by geography,” according to a post on one of the company’s blogs.

Trends will display “a percentage point increase or decrease in visits” to locations like parks, shops, homes and places of work, not “the absolute number of visits,” said the post, signed by Jen Fitzpatrick, who leads Google Maps, and the company’s chief health officer, Karen DeSalvo.

“We hope these reports will help support decisions about how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.

“This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.”

Like the detection of traffic jams or the measurement of traffic on Google Maps, the new reports will use “aggregated, anonymized” data from users who have activated their location history.

No “personally identifiable information,” such as a person’s location, contacts or movements, will be made available, the post said.

The reports will also employ a statistical technique that adds “artificial noise” to raw data, making it harder for users to be identified.

From China to Singapore to Israel, governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens’ movements in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has infected more than a million people and killed over 50,000 worldwide.

In Europe and the United States, technology firms have begun sharing “anonymized” smart phone data to better track the outbreak.

Even privacy-loving Germany is considering using a smart phone app to help manage the spread of the disease.

But activists say authoritarian regimes are using the coronavirus as a pretext to suppress independent speech and increase surveillance.

And in liberal democracies, others fear widespread data harvesting and intrusion could bring lasting harm to privacy and digital rights.

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Facebook Coronavirus Helpdesk: Indian Govt. Launched Facebook Messenger Chatbot For COVID-19 Information

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Social media giant Facebook on Friday launched a COVID-19 Chatbot on its messaging platform, Facebook Messenger Chatbot in partnership with the Union Health Ministry and MyGov in India. The Corona Helpdesk Chatbot on Messenger will help provide authentic and accurate information and bust fake news about new coronavirus.

Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director of Facebook India said, “In these difficult times, people are using our family of apps more than ever to stay connected with friends, family, and communities. We are grateful for the opportunity to support the government across ministries with communications tools and resources to share timely, accurate information on the coronavirus to keep people safe and informed. We will continue to do everything we can to help the country’s efforts.”

To contact the Chatbot, users can go to the Facebook page on MyGov Corona Hub and then start a chat by typing ‘Get Started’, which will prompt them to either type in a query or choose from a list of frequently asked questions. Depending on the question, users will receive verified information in the form of a video, infographic or text. The initiative comes in the backdrop of a sea of misinformation that has been floating around on WhatsApp and other social media platforms regarding the novel coronavirus. The Chatbot has both English and Hindi language capabilities.

Before this, the government had also rolled out a WhatsApp chatbot – MyGov Corona Helpdesk – to spread awareness on the coronavirus in real-time. When the chatbot receives a message, it uses machine learning (ML) to understand and address the query. Users can text on 93213-98773 to get all the required information. The government roped in conversational AI startup Haptik to build the tool.

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