According tomedia reports, Google launched the UAE social app ToTok in December, but now the chat app has been re-launched in the Google Play Store. At the time, the New York Times reported that Totok was believed to be a secret surveillance tool for the UAE government that allowed it to monitor the location, messaging and social relationships of ToTok users.
“We take reports of security and privacy violations seriously. If a violation of our policy is found, we will take action. A Google spokesman told Motherboard in an email.
The New York Times quoted a U.S. intelligence official as saying, “ToTok is used by the UAE government to track every conversation, movement, relationship, date, voice and image of a user.” The app has a large number of users in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, and the Apple and Google app stores have been downloaded millions of times, the report added.
After The New York Times reached out to representatives of Google and Apple for comment, both companies removed ToTok from its app store during the investigation.
On the same day that the New York Times published the article, Motherboard processed the ToTok Android app through the malware search engine VirusTotal. At the time, no antivirus software company marked the app as malicious. On Monday, however, ESET, Fortinet and Symantec all marked the same version of the application as malicious.
The ToTok version that was re-released on the Google Play Store is an updated version. Under the New Features section, the ToTok application page appears as “A dialog box with a new design asking you to authorize access and sync your contact list.” When Google first dropped the app, it said Totok violated unspecified policies.
“The wait is over. We are pleased to inform you that #ToTok现在可以在Google downloaded in the Play Store. Thank you for your patience. Let’s get in touch! ToTok wrote in a brief post on his website Sunday. Giacomo Ziani, toTok’s co-developer, defended the app in an interview with The Associated Press and said he was not aware of any involvement in the UAE’s intelligence.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment when asked if it would re-put the app in its app store.