Due to multiple spyware reports of UAE app Totok, Google decided to pull the strings and remove the app into its Play Store.
In December, The New York Times reported that the app was used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to track users’ conversations, locations, and other social connections. The app was called a ‘spyware tool’ that received a lot of reports from users.
Google looked into the matter last December and conducted an investigation to confirm the report. The investigation lasts for a month until finally, Google confirmed ToTok was removed from its Play Store. The tech giant declined to elaborate more on why they’ve removed the app from its app store. Google simply said the app ‘violated unspecified Google Play policies.’
The original report from The New York Times revealed that ToTok was downloaded millions of times, not just in the Play Store but also Apple Store. Users around the world used the app since its launch, however, unnamed US intelligence sources found out that the app has been used to track its users’ conversations, images, sound, and appointments.
Before Google removed ToTok from its Play Store, the app already had over 10 million installs.
Meanwhile, ToTok’s founder, Giacomo Ziani, denied the accusations and said these are baseless. “We firmly deny this baseless accusation, and we are profoundly saddened by this complete fabrication that was thrown at us. We feel caught up in some vile conspiracy against the UAE, and even jealousy by some people, who do not wish an app like ours from this region to ever become a global player,” said Ziani.
Just like most messaging apps, ToTok also asks for permission to access the phone’s camera, photos, microphone, location, calendar, and even contacts. According to The New York Times, the app vacuums all the information and file available and acts as a ‘full-blown surveillance tool.’
Even though the app is already removed from the Play Store and Apple Store, it has not been shut down completely. In their website, the company offers a direct download of the APK file. Additionally, the app still exists in some third-party Android app stores, which makes it easier for people to download the app.
Before the ToTok removal announcement, the company has published a statement on its website that the app is available again on Google Play Store.