Update: January 6, 2020 at 5:43 p.m. ET: Google just quietly reinstated the popular chat app ToTok back into the Play Store after it was removed following accusations that the app was a spy tool built for the United Arab Emirates.
Spotted by The Verge, users can now officially download the ToTok app from the Play Store, though it still has yet to be reinstated into the Apple App Store at the time of publication. Neither Google nor ToTok has released an official statement on why the app was reinstated, but we can assume this means Google at least doesn’t think the app violates the Play Store’s terms of service.
ToTok’s cofounders issued a follow-up statement rebuking these claims only days after the accusations were made public. We don’t know if this reinstatement has anything to do with ToTok’s statements or not until Google or ToTok releases more information about the matter.
You can read ToTok’s full follow-up statement to the initial accusations here.
Original article: December 23, 2019 at 3 p.m. ET: In a sudden turn of events, The New York Times just revealed popular messaging app ToTok is most likely a secret surveillance tool used by the United Arab Emirates government to spy on millions of people around the world. The app popped up only a few months ago, and it apparently tracks nearly everything about its users inside and outside the UAE.
ToTok has been downloaded across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, recently becoming one of the most downloaded social apps in the United States. According to The NYT, the UAE government knows “every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image” of everyone who used the app.
“ToTok is a cleverly designed tool for mass surveillance, according to the technical analysis and interviews,” reported The NYT. “It functions much like the myriad other Apple and Android apps that track users’ location and contacts.”
The app is officially developed by Breej Holding, but The NYT believes this is most likely a facade, saying ToTok is actually affiliated with DarkMatter: an Abu Dhabi-based cyber intelligence and hacking firm. The firm is made up of Emirati intelligence officials, former National Security Agency (NSA) employees, and former Israeli military intelligence operatives.
The app’s initial success began in the UAE because the local government blocks certain features on apps like WhatsApp and Skype. ToTok even received recent support from Chinese manufacturer Huawei after the company promoted the app in a recent Facebook post.
The FBI is further investigating the situation, and ToTok has since been pulled from both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Users who already downloaded the app will be able to use it until they manually uninstall it from their devices.