By Sarah E. Needleman
Amazon.com Inc. on Friday afternoon reversed a demand that
employees delete the TikTok app from company mobile devices, a
shocking turnabout from a dictate that just hours before had stoked
concern about the app's security and ties to China.
The first message was dramatic enough, as the email directive to
employees appeared to buttress recent scrutiny of TikTok security
issues from governments in the U.S. and India.
Then, the second message, in which a spokesman called the email
an error, backed away from what briefly appeared to be a major
policy change. It was a rare instance in which such a shift played
out in public for one of the world's most valuable and closely
What remained unclear late Friday was how many people within
Amazon, if anyone, harbor concern about TikTok to such a degree
that would have prompted the memo in the first place.
The now-retracted email was sent as an alert to thousands of
Amazon employees early in the business day in Seattle: "Due to
security risks, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile
devices that access Amazon email. If you have TikTok on your
device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to
Amazon email. At this time, using TikTok from your Amazon laptop
browser is allowed."
News of the decision broke and quickly went viral after it was
reported by The Information tech news site, and within hours two
U.S. senators responded enthusiastically.
"Now the whole federal government should follow suit," Sen. Josh
Hawley (R., Mo.) said in a tweet.
Amazon had reversed itself by midafternoon on the West Coast.
"This morning's email to some of our employees was sent in error,"
the Amazon spokesman said late Friday. "There is no change to our
policies right now with regard to TikTok."
The Amazon spokesman declined to comment further.
The memo initially 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 in the midst of concern about a new national-security law.
That was its second market exit after India banned the app and
others from Chinese companies, citing cybersecurity concern, 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 chief executive officer and navigate its
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 TikTok has
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 were 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, it was another sign that the product's security was
Last month, TikTok said that 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.
A TikTok spokeswoman on Friday said that it is currently
reviewing a number of claims made in recent weeks about its
security practices and that it has already determined that many are
inaccurate or outdated.
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 in recent months it has 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 were
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 respondents, considered the most common users of the app,
25% said they would be more likely to use TikTok if they learned
that the U.S. was looking to ban the app. Just 9% said they would
be less likely to use it, according to the survey's creator, the
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 Friday 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
India late last month banned TikTok as part of a wider move
requiring internet service providers to block access to 59 Chinese
apps. New Delhi imposed the ban after a border clash between troops
from the two countries left 20 Indian soldiers dead last month,
citing cybersecurity concerns.
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 19:42 ET (23:42 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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