Google has removed the popular messaging app ToTok from Play Store once again. The removal comes amid claims that it is being used for spying by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government for mass surveillance for a second time. The app was previously pulled from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store in December. 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.
On Friday, 9to5Google reported that the search giant has removed the app from Google Play Store. According to the US officials familiar with the classified intelligence assessment, the app that works like Signal or Telegram has been downloaded millions of times on Android and iOS devices in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. ToTok surged to become one of the most downloaded social apps in the US last week, according to app rankings and research firm App Annie.
Since it became popular, the road has not been easier for the application. An investigation by New York Times found that the firm behind ToTok is known as Breej Holding. The report found the company acted as a front firm affiliated with DarkMatter, an Abu Dhabi-based cyber intelligence and hacking firm. DarkMatter is already under an FBI investigation for possible cyber crimes.
Earlier, the probe also linked ToTok to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining firm that appears to be tied to DarkMatter. ToTok app co-founder dismissed allegations of spying against the company. “Since its launch, [people have loved] ToTok’s quality and ease of use. And we quickly became one of the most downloaded apps worldwide,” said Giac. Google reinstated the app last month but it seems the decision was short-lived. It needs to be seen whether the app is gone forever or it makes a comeback. For now, ToTok is off both Google and Apple app stores.
(Written with IANS inputs)