Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 February 2020

ToTok co-founder dismisses claims app spies on users

Developer appeals to Apple and Google to reinstate the message service to their app stores

The co-founder of ToTok, a free video messaging service, has dismissed reports that the app could be used as a spying tool.

In a video released on Twitter, the co-developer, who referred to himself only as Giac, claimed the controversy was hurting the startup.

Tagging Apple boss Tim Cook along with Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, he said the newly released software was designed by entrepreneurs with the aim of making "people’s digital life easier”.

He appealed to Apple and Google to reinstate the app to their stores. Both firms stopped listing ToTok earlier this month after allegations of spying first surfaced.

“Since its launch, [people have loved] ToTok’s quality and ease of use. And we quickly became one of the most downloaded apps worldwide,” Giac said.

ToTok, an alternative to services such as Skype, which is blocked in the Emirates, was initially welcome by many users as the first cost-free video calling option in the UAE.

But it was also met with some skepticism by those who questioned how long it would remain free given it did not include any advertising and did not require a paid subscription.

The app disappeared from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store without explanation more than a week ago, shortly before articles appeared in the international press claiming it could be used to spy on users in the UAE.

Giac refuted the allegation in his Twitter video, insisting the app was not linked with any government. “Not the UAE, the US or China,” he said.

“All of a sudden, [unfounded] rumours started to spread and as a small startup, we were certainly not ready for such publicity," he said in the video.

“This is seriously hurting our company and putting all our efforts at risk. User privacy and data protection have always been our top priority.”

Since the app’s removal, Giac said ToTok had worked closely with Google and Apple to address the companies’ concerns.

He said he had invited representatives from both firms to meet with the ToTok team in person to “get the problem solved”.

"Millions of people are waiting to be connected with their families and friends around the globe, especially during this holiday season," Giac argued.

“The developer community relies on you. We count on your support.”

ToTok was still not available for download on either Google Play or the App Store as of Sunday morning.

At the weekend, the UAE telecoms regulator said there were strong information security laws in place “to prohibit any kind of data breach and unlawful interception."

"The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority imposes strict standards to protect users’ privacy, which are in compliance with international standards," a statement said.

"The standards are strictly implemented across all certified telecommunications applications, including Totok, in the UAE."

Updated: December 30, 2019 11:18 AM

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