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Amazon tells staff to delete TikTok, then retracts

Internal email had cited 'security risks' in having the Chinese-owned video app on mobile devices

Amazon.com headquarters in Seattle: The U.S. e-commerce giant is requiring employees to remove the popular short-video app TikTok from their mobile devices by July 10. (Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Amazon.com has retracted an internal email instructing employees to delete the popular short-video app TikTok from their mobile devices.

"Due to security risks, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email," the American e-commerce giant had said in the Friday morning message seen by the Nikkei Asian Review. "If you have TikTok on your device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to Amazon email."

Workers could still access TikTok through their laptop computer browsers at this time, the message added.

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

The spokesperson declined to clarify whether Amazon workers can still access the app on their mobile devices.

TikTok parent ByteDance recently formed an e-commerce business unit as the short-video giant steps up efforts to capitalize on the platform's popularity -- a move that also puts the company in a position to directly compete with the likes of Amazon.

"User security is of the utmost importance to TikTok -- we are fully committed to respecting the privacy of our users," a TikTok spokesperson said. "While Amazon did not communicate to us before sending their email, and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialogue so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community."

"We're proud that hundreds of millions of people turn to TikTok for entertainment, inspiration, and connection, including many of the Amazon employees and contractors who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic," the spokesperson said.

Amazon's moves came days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comment Monday that the Trump administration is looking at banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok.

Nor is this is the first time that the highly popular short-video app has been scrutinized over links to China. A national security review was launched months ago over ByteDance's past acquisition of Chinese American company Musical.ly, which later became TikTok. The U.S. Department of Defense and military branches have banned the app from government-issued mobile devices, according to media reports.

One major concern that American regulators have raised is that because TikTok's parent is Chinese, it may transfer data from U.S. users to China or censor content that strikes a nerve with Beijing.

ByteDance and TikTok have said that all their U.S. user data is stored in-country and that the American operation does not fall under Chinese jurisdiction.

"TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S.," TikTok told Nikkei. "We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked."

The U.S. was TikTok's second-most-downloaded country in 2019, according to Sensor Tower. With the app recently banned in India -- its largest market -- the U.S. has become increasingly important for TikTok.

"The latest controversy over banning the app in the U.S. could be more of a political power play than concerns over advertising and personal privacy," said Jin Kim, founder and CEO of Creative Digital Agency, a company in California's San Francisco Bay Area.

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