A BREEJ TOO FAR: How Abu Dhabi’s Spy Sheikh hid his Chat App in Plain Sight

Key Findings

  • Three companies connected to the ToTok app are linked to Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a “senior UAE intelligence official.” Tahnoon’s adopted son is the sole director of “Breej Holding Ltd,” listed in the Apple App Store as ToTok’s developer. An executive at Tahnoon’s Royal Group is the sole director of “ToTok Technology Ltd,” and Tahnoon’s PR Manager is the sole director of “Group 42 Holding Ltd,” the company that appears to have created the ToTok app. (Section 2: Who’s Behind ToTok?)
  • Group 42 is a UAE-based artificial intelligence company, whose CEO is the former CEO of Pegasus LLC,¹ a one-time division of DarkMatter Group. Pegasus LLC appears to have been renamed “PAX AI,” and now seems to be a division of Group 42. Group 42 appears to have created ToTok as an app called “G42 IM,” based on YeeCall, a VoIP app written by a Chinese company. Interestingly, YeeCall’s COO, Senior Developer, and Design Director all appear to be connected to ongoing development or promotion of ToTok. (Section 4: Who Developed ToTok?)
  • After the December 2019 New York Times report on ToTok, the app’s purported co-founders, Giacomo Ziani (“Giac”) and Long Ruan, emerged for the first time. Before December 2019, Giac’s LinkedIn profile listed him as “Marketing and Communications Manager” at Group 42, and Long’s listed him as the COO of YeeCall. After a December 2019 update to their LinkedIn profiles, these positions were truncated to end in July 2019, and ToTok co-founder positions were added, backdated to August 2019. (Section 5: ToTok’s Backdated Founders)

1. ToTok: The Story so Far

Figure 1: The ToTok app as it formerly appeared in the iOS App Store.

2. Who’s Behind ToTok?

Figure 2: ToTok’s corporate structure shows links to UAE intelligence.
Figure 3: Director data for BREEJ HOLDING LTD.
Figure 4: Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed with adopted son Hassan Al-Rumaithi. (Source: Hassan Al-Rumaithi’s Facebook cover photo).
Figure 5: Alpha’s website.

3. Abu Dhabi’s Spy Sheikh

Figure 6: Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, often pictured wearing sunglasses.
inetnum: 83.111.56.184 – 83.111.56.191
netname: minaoffice-EMIRNET
descr: Office Of Sh. Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
descr: P.O. Box 5151 , Abu Dhabi, UAE
country: AE
Figure 7: Invoice from Hacking Team to Mauqah Technology. Mauqah Technology paid the final installment to Hacking Team in June 2012.

4. Who Developed ToTok?

Figure 8: TLS certificate connecting Breej, Group 42, and publisher of the YeeCall app.
Figure 9: Group 42’s logo is displayed in a notification from the G42 IM app.
Figure 10: The categories on Group 42’s News website, showing PAX.

5. ToTok’s Ex Post Facto Founders

Figure 11: Giac speaks! A “Keep Calm and Love ToTok” graphic is visible in the background.
Figure 12: Giac and Long showing off their ToTok swag.
Figure 13: Long Ruan liked a post about Group 42’s Artemis supercomputer on his LinkedIn page.

6. ToTok: Not Spyware, but Not Safe to Use

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Postdoc at UC Berkeley, Research Scientist at International Computer Science Institute, and Research Fellow at Citizen Lab. Partially funded by Berkeley CLTC.

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Bill Marczak

Bill Marczak

Postdoc at UC Berkeley, Research Scientist at International Computer Science Institute, and Research Fellow at Citizen Lab. Partially funded by Berkeley CLTC.

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