Google Play pulls out ToTok social media app for allegedly spying on users

Messages, pictures, videos and geographic locations shared by users were allegedly intercepted by the UAE government itself.

Google Play, the official Android App Store, has removed the social media app ToTok for allegedly spying on users. This is not the first time Google has banned the app in Google Play. Google took out the app in December last year, too, soon after the New York Times revealed the alleged espionage capability of the app.

However, in January, Google and Apple both quietly removed it. On February 14, Google took it out again. Google confirmed its decision but did not give any reason.

After the first ban, ToTok stated that "since day one, we have built ToTok with user security and privacy as our priority". They also attributed a technical analysis to a (anonymous) former NSA employee highlighting, "(it) simply does what it claims to do, and really nothing more... no exploits, no backdoors, and no malware".

new android malware
Representative Image: A new Android malware called Faketoken.q steals bank information. Reuters

ToTok sounds quite like another controversial social media app TikTok and offers almost similar service to its users. The app claims to provide "fast, free and secure" free messaging and calls. It is massively popular around the UAE and other regions of the Middle East. It is also one of the most downloaded social media apps in the US, with over 10 million downloads.

The NYT report claimed that ToTok was manipulated by the UAE government and used as a surveillance tool to "track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image of those who install it on their phones".

According to the report, messages, pictures, videos and geographic locations shared by users were directly intercepted by the UAE government.

Earlier, a report alleged nexus between ToTok's developers and the UAE's intelligence agency. Citing an intelligence assessment by US officials, the report claimed that on the condition of anonymity a digital security expert working for the US security department said ToTok has been specially crafted as an espionage tool to track its users.