KEY POINTS

  • Apple and Google both removed the messaging app ToTok from their respective official app stores in December
  • The decision was made following a report from The New York Times revealing a warning from the US intelligence community
  • ToTok was allegedly used by the UAE government as a surveillance tool

In Dec. 2019, Google and Apple banned and removed the popular messaging app ToTok from their official app stores. The decision came following the US intelligence officials informed The New York Times that the United Arab Emirates is likely using the app for state surveillance. However, on Saturday, search engine giant Google silently reinstated the app in its Play Store with the Cupertino company seemingly undecided of its next steps about the alleged spy app.

The ToTok issue that both tech giants Apple and Google find themselves in mirrors the challenges app stores have in monitoring their offerings, says Wired. It is easy for Apple or Google to monitor the behavior and remove from their official stores a suspicious app pretending to be a puzzle game but, in fact, a fraud ad scam. But, if an app like ToTok, calling itself a VoIP messaging and calling app, does exactly that, technically, there is nothing threatening to detect, add the site.

ToTok can easily funnel the user's data from its corporate servers to the government beyond the reach of both Apple and Google. This is the problem that both tech juggernauts faced even before but to a less-publicized scope. Communication app Telegram was subject to heavy rounds of unsubstantiated accusations linking it to the Russian government.

Apple Store The Apple Store app now supports voice search. Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

In telegram’s case, Google and Apple did not remove the app from their official app stores. The same happened with the messaging app WeChat, but it too is not removed by both tech giants from their app stores. The US intelligence warning about ToTok through the New York Times is, by far, the most straightforward and actionable yet challenging task for Apple and Google to deal with.

Productive dialogue with the search engine giant Google, which highlighted several areas of improvement on the app already took place, reveals ToTok founder Giacomo Ziani in a statement last week. But, on the Apple side, there is less interaction because of the holiday season, the app founder adds. 

Based on its original statement issued at the height of the removal of ToTok from its Play Store, it appears that Google did not find anything about the app that goes against Play Store policies. On Monday, Apple said that ToTok is still not on the iOS app store, but the investigation of the apps is still ongoing.