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Google again removes ToTok messaging app from Play Store

ToTok has been kicked out of Google’s Play Store for the second time in two months.

The fast-growing messaging app — not to be confused with TikTok — hit the headlines in December 2019 when a New York Times report claimed it was being used by the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) intelligence agency to spy on those that had downloaded it. In addition, the report suggested that the startup behind the app, which has offices in Abu Dhabi and Singapore, is a front company affiliated with a cyberintelligence and hacking firm.

ToTok launched last year and was downloaded millions of times from the Apple and Google app stores in countries throughout the world.

In an apparent response to the Times’ investigation, the app was removed from both app stores at the end of last year. About two weeks later, however, an updated version, which this time asked for permission to access and sync the device’s contact list, reappeared in the Play Store. But in the last few days, Google has taken ToTok down again.

It is not currently clear why Google has decided to remove it, though it’s safe to assume that the app has violated the Play Store’s policies in some way. We’ve reached out to the web giant for an answer and will update this piece when we hear back.

When it removed the app the first time around, Google told Digital Trends: “We take reports of security and privacy violations seriously. If we find behavior that violates our policies, we take action.”

Apple’s app store has been more consistent, deciding not to reinstate ToTok since removing it in December. After Google took it down from the Play Store for a second time, ToTok’s website added links to other download sites such as the Samsung Galaxy Store, Huawei App Gallery, Xiaomi GetApps, and OPPO App Market, but clicking through, we can see that Samsung’s store, for one, has already removed the app. It remains to be seen whether the others follow suit.

Unnamed U.S. intelligence sources told the New York Times that ToTok was being used to track “every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image” from the messaging app. But in a video message posted on Twitter following the first take-down in December, ToTok founder Giac Ziani insisted that his company has no links to any government, “not the UAE, the U.S., or China,” adding that “user privacy and data protection have always been our top priority.”

Looking to try a new messaging app for your phone that is available on the Play Store? Then check out these suggestions from Digital Trends.

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