Google lets alleged spying app ToTok back into Play Store

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google has made the popular chat app ToTok available again for download after the service was banned from the Play Store for reportedly functioning as an espionage tool of the United Arab Emirates.

ToTok was pitched as a secure app that’s available where Western counterparts like WhatsApp may be restricted, and the service quickly gained millions of users after it was introduced last year. But citing classified American intelligence, The New York Times reported last month that the service was used by the UAE “to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.”

The Times reported that the company behind the app was “most likely a front” for the Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity and hacking company DarkMatter, which has been linked to the UAE government.

Before the report was published, the app was pulled from both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. Since then, however, Google has quietly reinstated the app. The app still doesn’t appear to be available on the App Store.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on why the app was reinstated or why it was removed in the first place. But the fact that Google chose to remove the app and later bring it back suggests it at least examined the service for violations of its Play Store terms.

“We take reports of security and privacy violations seriously,” the Google spokesperson said in a statement. “If we find behavior that violates our policies, we take action.”

ToTok has denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement last month that it valued “openness, honesty and transparency” and predicting it would return to the App Store and Google Play “so the hundreds of thousands of new users who have been waiting will finally be able to join all of us in the ToTok community.”

Correction, 2:20PM ET: an earlier version of this post said ToTok was pulled after the report was published. It was pulled before.

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