Google pulls alleged Emirati spyware app — ToTok — from the Play Store

Google Play Store
Google Play Store (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google has pulled ToTok, a popular Emirati messaging app, from the Play Store.
  • The app was accused of really being Emirati state spyware in late December.
  • It was previously pulled from the Play Store and App Store before being temporarily reinstated in the former.

Google (as confirmed via The Verge) has once again pulled Emirati instant messaging app, ToTok from the Play Store. The app and associated service were the subjects of a New York Times exposé in December 2019, revealing the app to be spyware aimed at vacuuming up data from an installed phone.

As per the New York Times' report:

The service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

Subsequently, it was pulled from both the App Store and the Play Store, likely to protect customers. While Google ended up restoring it temporarily, Apple never did.

ToTok's founder, Giacomo Ziani, denied the accusations at the time, condemning them as baseless and appealing to Apple and Google to restore the app to their users:

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.

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