By Sarah E. Needleman 

Amazon.com Inc. sent employees an email Friday morning mandating they remove the TikTok app from company mobile devices, but a spokesman later said that order had been sent in error.

In the now-retracted staff memo, Amazon said that employees must delete TikTok if they are accessing their company email from their phones due to unspecified security concerns. The ecommerce giant had also said employees could still use TikTok from an Amazon laptop browser.

"This morning's email to some of our employees was sent in error," an Amazon spokesman said Friday afternoon. "There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok."

The memo initially caused a stir as it appeared to be the latest high-profile setback for the short-form video app. Earlier this week its owner, Beijing-based Bytedance Ltd., said it would pull TikTok out of Hong Kong amid concerns about a new national-security law, its second market exit after India last week banned the app and others from Chinese companies as part of an escalating border dispute between Beijing and New Delhi.

Bytedance in May hired a top Walt Disney Co. executive, Kevin Mayer, to be TikTok's new CEO and navigate its controversial global expansion.

Meanwhile, President Trump has said his administration is considering limiting U.S. users' access to TikTok. In Washington, some lawmakers have called for an outright ban, saying data in the smartphone app would be available to Beijing, a claim that TikTok has denied. After the Amazon memo became public, Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) tweeted on Friday that "the whole federal government should follow suit."

The Information earlier reported the Amazon memo.

TikTok's security has come under scrutiny in recent months. In March, security researchers found that TikTok was one of several dozen iPhone apps that was silently accessing data copied into the phone's clipboard without authorization. The clipboard is software that stores data in the phone's memory whenever someone copies and pastes information using the iPhone.

The security issue could give TikTok a way of accessing any sensitive information that might have been copied, such as passwords or email messages or banking information, said Tommy Mysk, one of the researchers who discovered the clipboard issue.

After his research into TikTok's clipboard was published in March, Mr. Mysk and a colleague took another look at TikTok and discovered that it was sending videos without using a standard internet encryption protocol -- a design decision that could give hackers a way of spoofing TikTok videos from legitimate users. TikTok has since fixed this issue, Mr. Mysk said, but according to him, this was another sign that the product's security was substandard.

Last month, TikTok said the data access was part of an anti-spam feature and that no such information left users' devices, adding that it had removed that tool.

TikTok is known for its often lighthearted user-made videos featuring pranks, dancing and cats. For much of its history, the company aggressively curated its content to avoid topics that were controversial, though it has in recent months become more permissive and begun featuring more political videos.

In the U.S., the app was second in downloads to Zoom Video Communications Inc.'s namesake video-chat app in the first half of 2020, according to market-research firm Sensor Tower, which said TikTok has racked up 184.7 million U.S. downloads to date across the App Store and Google Play. The U.S. was TikTok's third-largest market in new users in the first half of the year, after India and Brazil.

A new survey of 2,200 U.S. adults found that Americans are divided over whether TikTok should be barred from operating in the U.S., with 29% saying yes, 33% saying no and 38% unsure. Among the youngest of respondents, considered the most common users of the app, 25% said they'd be more likely to use TikTok if they learned the U.S. was looking to ban the app. Just 9% said they'd be less likely to use it, according to the survey's creator, data-intelligence company Morning Consult.

Users made their concerns about a potential shutdown of TikTok known on the app, where the hashtag #savetiktok was viewed more than 170 million times as of early afternoon.

(More to Come)

Robert McMillan and Dana Mattioli contributed to this article.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 10, 2020 18:00 ET (22:00 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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