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Technology Google removes alleged spying app ToTok from the Play Store for a second time

07:30  15 february  2020
07:30  15 february  2020 Source:   theverge.com

It Seemed Like a Popular Chat App. It’s Secretly a Spy Tool.

  It Seemed Like a Popular Chat App. It’s Secretly a Spy Tool. It is billed as an easy and secure way to chat by video or text message with friends and family, even in a country that has restricted popular messaging services like WhatsApp and Skype. But the service, ToTok, is actually a spying tool, according to American officials familiar with a classified intelligence assessment and a New York Times investigation into the app and its developers. It is used by the government of the United Arab Emirates to try to track every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of those who install it on their phones.

Last December, a report from the New York Times detailed how a chat app gaining traction around the world was actually being used as a spying tool by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While ToTok was initially removed by Apple and Google , the Play Store later restored the messaging service.

Google has reinstated the popular chat app ToTok after the service was banned from the Play Store for reportedly functioning as an espionage tool 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

Google has removed the chat app ToTok, which is allegedly an espionage tool for the United Arab Emirates, from the Play Store for a second time. The app was previously pulled from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store in December, shortly before The New York Times published a report about it. Google quietly reinstated the app in January. The app appears to have remained unavailable on the App Store.

a close up of a light© Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

9to5Google noted the news of ToTok’s takedown earlier today. When reached for comment, Google confirmed to The Verge that it took down the app, but didn’t provide any explanation as to why. It removed ToTok the first time for violating unspecified policies, according to the Times.

Popular messaging app ToTok reportedly an Emirati spy tool

  Popular messaging app ToTok reportedly an Emirati spy tool Apple and Google have already removed the app from their app stores.The app is mass surveillance tool, The times reported, capable of monitoring every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image of its users. The majority of the app's users are in the Emirates but recently surged in popularity in the US.

Google removed the app last Thursday and Apple pulled it the following day. However, ToTok users, who already have the app on their phone, can Google Play Store showed that it had five million Android downloads alone before it was removed , while app -tracker App Annie said that ToTok was

Google removed the app from Google Play on Thursday and Apple removed it from the App Store on Friday, but ToTok will keep working—and potentially spying —if it’s already on your phone. "Uninstall it yesterday," says Patrick Wardle, a security researcher at Jamf specialized in Apple

ToTok is a messaging app that promised “fast, free, and secure” messages and calls and was downloaded by millions in the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East. Shortly before its removal from the Play Store and App Store in December, the app was one of the most-downloaded social apps in the US. But the NYT’s investigation found that the app allowed the UAE government to spy on users.

ToTok denied the “vicious rumors” in a statement published in December, saying that “[n]ot only do we respect privacy and ensure security, our users also have the complete control over what data they want to share at their own discretion.”

Android saw a 98 percent drop in apps asking for call and text data .
Google has been clamping down on Android apps that abuse permissions, and that appears to have had a very tangible effect on the Play Store. As part of a larger piece explaining how Google continues to fight "bad apps," the company revealed that there was a 98 percent drop in the number of Play Store apps accessing call log and SMS data in 2019. Simply put, an October 2018 policy against unnecessary access had its intended effect. The remaining 2 percent are apps that really do require call and text data to perform their core tasks, according to Google.

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