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Free video calls app ToTok will be back on Google, Apple stores: Co-founder

Ashwani Kumar, Sahim Salim

Published on December 28, 2019 at 18.14

An exclusive interview with the co-founder of ToTok, who termed the malicious charges of spying as a "conspiracy".

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Terming the recent developments and malicious charges of spying as a "conspiracy", ToTok co-founder Giacomo Ziani said the free, secure calling and messaging app will be back in the market "as soon as possible and hopefully in the next few days". In an interview with Khaleej Times, he assured users that ToTok is safe and treatment of personal data fully compliant with the local and international norms, as independently confirmed by the recent TRA statement.
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Ziani clarified that ToTok isn’t a copy of the Chinese app YeeCall and elaborated on how the company was allowed to operate in the UAE as a pilot project, which had met all regulatory requirements. In an act of transparency, the co-founders have welcomed Apple and Google to visit ToTok office to address problems and reinstate the app on their stores.
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Excerpts from the Q&A with Giacomo Ziani: Give us a brief history about ToTok. Where is the company based out of? It all started with my cofounder Long Ruan, recognising a business opportunity to create a new consumer digital platform in the Mena region. Long has a successful record in building and commercialising mobile apps. I’ve been working in the country for three years, with previous experience in numerous digital startups in Italy. As we joined forces, our objective was ‘speed to market’. We took advantage of the excellent startup incentives in Abu Dhabi, and engaged two private local investors who believed in our potential. During our incubation, we used the Apple developer account under Breej Holding Limited, registered in the ADGM Free Zone of Abu Dhabi. We worked for months round-the-clock to develop the public version of ToTok. We officially launched ToTok in August 2019, when our ToTok company was set up in the ADGM Free Zone. In less than two months, we celebrated two million user downloads.
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There have been allegations that the app is used for ‘spying’. Do you categorically deny this? We firmly deny this baseless accusation, and we are profoundly saddened by this complete fabrication that was thrown at us. We feel caught up in some vile conspiracy against the UAE, and even jealousy by some people, who do not wish an app like ours from this region to ever become a global player.
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The app was an instant hit among users in the GCC region, particularly the UAE. What do you think were the reasons for this? We have built a fantastic product that people love. And of course, it is free. ToTok was fortunate to come to the market at a time when the UAE was updating the policy on VoIP service, mostly due, we believe, to the approaching of Expo 2020. The UAE had already released multiple public statements in this regard. ToTok was allowed as a pilot project, because we were new, had no market share, and from a clean slate we met all the UAE requirements to operate in the country (for example, our employees work and live in the country). We are exploring the opportunity to collaborate with Botim. We ran a test by sending a message to a selected number of Botim users to understand the user preferences and the migration between the apps.
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Why was the app taken off Google and Apple stores? Unfortunately, we believe both Apple and Google acted prematurely. Both companies reviewed and approved our app for months, version after version, as we updated it to enhance its functionalities. How soon will the app be reinstated on the stores? We hope in the next few days. This suspension is temporary, but it is affecting our global community and hurting our business. It is unfathomable to us that completely false accusations are free to propagate. In the spirit of full transparency, we already extended an open invitation to Apple and Google to visit our office in person.
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Why do you think the app was targeted? We are not sure, but we can firmly state that ToTok is an independent, privately-owned startup like many others in the world, with no ties to the government. In addition to this, we comply with local and international regulations of all the countries we operate in. Another reason might be found in the ongoing trade war between the US and China. ToTok was accused of being built as a copy of a Chinese messaging app, YeeCall. First, we want to tell them the accusations are categorically false. All our users, in the UAE and abroad, should not be scared by such fabrication. After all, Apple and Google approved and published our app for months now. Will you be adding more security features to allay privacy fears? There is no end to security enhancement, and we are always working to improve it in addition to building many other new user features.
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Will the app always remain free? We believe communications should always be free. It is not a privilege. It is a right.
 
 
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