Google confirmed that it had again removed the alleged spying app ToTok from Google Play. The New York Times reported in December that a popular messaging app called ToTok was actually a spy tool used by the UAE government to track users’ conversations, locations and social relationships.
The app was removed from the Google Play store in December, and Google investigated it and was reinstated in early January. Google has now confirmed that the app has been removed again, but declined to disclose the reason.
Google noted that the move did not result from any external instructions, meaning that the U.S. government was not involved, but that Google itself chose to remove the app.
According to an original New York Times report, ToTok’s Apple and Google App Stores in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America attracted millions of downloads in the months since its launch. The report quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence sources as saying the app had been used to track its users ” every conversation, location, relationship, appointment, sound and image.”
In deleting the app, Google said it violated Google Play policy, but did not specify which policy it was. Sensor Tower, an app intelligence firm, says the app was installed more than 10 million times at the time.
ToTok’s official website announced in January that it would be available for download again.
The updated version submitted to Google Play includes a new dialog box that requests authorization to access and sync users’ contact lists, according to news site Vice.
Curiously, an updated version of this ToTok does not appear in the Google Play rankings.
Third-party app intelligence companies, such as App Annie and Sensor Tower, typically see lower-ranked apps. For example, App Annie can even track apps ranked as low as 1,750. But Totok has never been on the list since his return, even in the UAE’s domestic market.
Download links to ToTok’s official website now point to a list in many third-party Android app stores, but not to Google Play. It also provides a directly downloadable APK files.
ToTok still can’t download it through an iOS device.