ToTok returns to Google Play Store after accusations of spying

The messaging app says allegations that it's a surveillance tool are categorically false.

Oscar Gonzalez Former staff reporter
Oscar Gonzalez is a Texas native who covered video games, conspiracy theories, misinformation and cryptocurrency.
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ToTok returns after spying claims.


Popular messaging app ToTok is back in the Google Play Store after it was removed in December. Last month, the app was accused of being a surveillance tool used by the United Arab Emirates to track the activities of people who download it.

ToTok was available for download once again in the Google Play Store as of Saturday, according to a tweet from the company. A "what's new" section on the Google Play app page says the app made several updates, including how it makes requests for user data and syncs contact list info.

Google didn't specify why the app has been reinstated but said it takes security and privacy violations seriously. "If we find behavior that violates our policies, we take action," said a Google spokesperson via email on Monday. 

A report from The New York Times on Dec. 22 cited experts who said the app was "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 ." Both  Apple  and  Google  removed the app from their respective app stores in December. 

The allegation was denied by ToTok co-founders Giacomo Ziani and Long Ruan, who said on Dec. 24 that a technical analysis by a former NSA employee concluded ToTok "simply does what it claims to do, and really nothing more... no exploits, no backdoors, and no malware."

In an interview with the Khaleej Times on Dec. 29, Ziani said he's unsure why the app was targeted but insisted it had no ties to any government and complies with local and international regulations of all the countries they operate in.

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