Apple and Google have both removed the ToTok app from distribution following a New York Times investigation claiming that it is a spying tool used by the government of the United Arab Emirates.
ToTok is a video and text messaging chat app that’s been downloaded and installed on iPhones and Android phones millions of times, according to the report. But the company behind the app, Breej Holding, is alleged to be a front for DarkMatter, a cyberintelligence firm staffed by Emirati intelligence officials and others.
When The Times initially contacted Apple and Google representatives with questions about ToTok’s connection to the Emirati government, they said they would investigate. On Thursday, Google removed the app from its Play store after determining ToTok violated unspecified policies. Apple removed ToTok from its App Store on Friday and was still researching the app, a spokesman said. ToTok users who already downloaded the app will still be able to use it until they remove it from their phones.
The Times (via 9to5Mac) says that ToTok does not encrypt it data connection to its users and its terms of service note that it may share personal data with group companies.
Despite the name similarity, ToTok has no connection with TikTok, the popular video sharing app and platform owned by ByteDance. TikTok has faced its own share of controversy for ByteDance’s connection to the Chinese government.
While ToTok has been particularly popular in the UAE, its popularity has also spread to Saudi Arabia, Britain, India, Sweden and other countries. The app has proven popular with users looking for an alternative to WhatsApp and Skype in countries where the use of those apps is prohibited.