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ToTok app removed from app stores after accusations of being front for UAE mass surveillance

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ToTok, a free VoIP app launched recently, that had millions of downloads on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store, has been removed from both.

The Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based newspaper Gulf News originally reported that the video and voice calls app was removed from the two stores in the UAE; however, it appears to now also unavailable elsewhere in the world.

The removals happened on December 21 and 22, but it seems that those who have ToTok installed can continue to use it without issues. And the makers of the app quickly announced that “a solution was on the way” – publishing instructions for those who want to install the app outside of the two stores.

The workaround offered to new users is to download the app from the official website. In addition, those using Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi phones can download the app from the phone manufacturers’ own stores. Meanwhile, ToTok makers said they are “well engaged” with the two US tech giants who currently have the app blocked.

Other than announcing the unavailability of ToTok in Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems and providing instructions on how to bypass the issue, Gulf News doesn’t delve into the reasons behind these problems that are affecting the popular app.

The report does mention, however, that the free voice and video calls app BOTIM recently announced it would “continue to provide telecommunications services under the ToTok brand.” Meanwhile, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook and other similar apps have been blocked in the UAE since 2017. At the same time, UAE’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority (TRA) advises the country’s residents subscribe to BOTIM, C’ME, and apps provided by Etisalat and du – UAE’s two telecom operators.

It would appear that the country’s authorities want to keep VoIP communications of users in its territory channeled to specific apps – but beyond that, privacy issues seem to be the culprit.

Shedding some light on the matter, perhaps, is an article published by the New York Times on Sunday, flat-out accusing  ToTok of being “secretly a spy tool.”

The report is based on statements from unnamed US officials and the newspaper’s own investigation, and claims that ToTok is used by the UAE government for mass surveillance.

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