The Shady, Curious Evolution Of ToTok In Google Play Store

At the end of the year 2019, Apple and Google removed the ToTok social messaging app from their app stores due to a report from US intelligence officials claiming that ToTok is a tool for secretly spying by the United Arab Emirates government.

Only a week later, Google reinstated the Android version of the app without an explanation.

That move made users and security experts from all across the globe confused and perplexed.

Google now decided to once again banish the app without revealing a pertinent reason. Meanwhile, Apple kept the iOS version of ToTok out of its App Store.

Play Protect

Over the past few days, Play Protect, Google’s service that scans Android devices for apps that do not respect the company’s terms of service, started displaying the following message: This app tries to spy on your data, such as SMS messages, photos, audio recordings, or call history. Even if you have heard of this app or the app developer, this version of the app could harm your device.”

The dialog box then gives the user the option to uninstall ToTok or keep it even though it’s unsafe.

Trickery

In the months before the app’s first removal, ToTok registered millions of downloads from play, and the App Store combined. The iOS app alone cumulated over 32,000 user reviews, and most of them positive.

However, many of the reviews and downloads were likely part of a UAE-powered campaign meant to boost the popularity of the app.

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