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 e-commerce giant
had also said employees could still use TikTok from an Amazon
"This morning's email to some of our employees was sent in
error," an Amazon spokesman said hours later Friday. "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, citing cybersecurity concerns,
as part of an escalating border conflict between Beijing and New
Bytedance in May hired a top Walt Disney Co. executive, Kevin
Mayer, to be TikTok's new CEO and navigate its controversial global
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
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
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
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.
TikTok is currently under a national-security review by
Washington through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
after lawmakers raised concerns that the app was censoring content
to comply with Chinese government requests. TikTok has denied these
The U.S. military has banned its members from using TikTok,
signaling concern about possible security risks related to the
ByteDance is considering changing the corporate structure of
TikTok, with senior executives discussing options such as creating
a new management board or establishing a headquarters for the app
outside of China to distance its operations from the country,
according to a person familiar with the company's thinking.
Amazon is one of the largest employers in the U.S., with roughly
800,000 situated around the globe. It has been on a hiring spree in
recent months as it works to meet soaring demand amid the
TikTok is among scores of mobile apps to share or make available
private information about their users with third parties, said
Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of
Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. "If we're going to ban
TikTok, why not ban all other apps on our phones?" she said.
"China's involvement is what makes it so adversarial."
Robert McMillan and Dana Mattioli contributed to this
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 10, 2020 18:12 ET (22:12 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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