Amazon tells workers to remove TikTok due to security risks

Hours after sending an email instructing employees to remove the TikTok social media app from their phones, citing unspecified “security risks,” Inc. said Friday that the message was sent in error.

The curious sequence of events came days after the White House expanded on messages that consider the Chinese people’s service to be a potential threat to national security.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and President Donald Trump said earlier this week that the federal government was weighing the app ban in the US due to concerns over Chinese surveillance.

Trump and Pompeo’s comments represent the latest escalation of conflict between the US and China, which are locked in global competition for technological dominance. The Trump government has campaigned aggressively against China, starting a trade war with China more than two years ago, and cracking down on China’s leading telecommunications company, Huawei Technologies Co., by banning the company from doing business with U.S. companies. . While Huawei’s crackdown rocked the world of business tech, with TikTok, the war could directly affect American consumers.

Experts say there are real security concerns about TikTok, but the Trump administration’s tough stance on the app appears to be strongly driven by its stance towards China. If TikTok ended up being a victim of this war, it could have far-reaching effects.

Amazon’s email to employees, whose existence was first reported by the New York Times and independently confirmed by the LA Times, said TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos of themselves with millions of viewers. , devices that access Amazon email would no longer be allowed on the mobile. Employees could still use TikTok on their Amazon laptops using a web browser, according to the email. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

An Amazon spokesperson declined to provide further details on how the error occurred.

TikTok said in a statement that the company is committed to respecting the privacy of users: “While Amazon did not contact us prior to sending their email, and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialogue so that we can Addressing any issues they may have may allow their team to continue to participate in our community. We are proud that tens of millions of Americans turn to TikTok for entertainment, inspiration and connection, including many of Amazon’s employees and contractors who have been on the first line of this pandemic. “

American companies like Amazon are probably watching these developments carefully and paying close attention to government signals, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said.

If Amazon had kept its original memo, it would have been the largest company to warn its TikTok employees of a possible security risk.

Earlier this week, Wells Fargo instructed employees who had installed TikTok on the company’s mobile devices to remove the app due to privacy concerns. The Democratic National Committee had previously issued a guide in December asking employees to stop downloading the app. The Republican National Committee did the same on Friday.

ByteDance acquired, the American company that has since merged with TikTok, in 2017. Last November, the United States government opened a national security review of that deal.

Security concerns about TikTok are legitimate: the information the app hypothetically collects could be exploited, said Justin Sherman, a member of the Cyber ​​Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

But Sherman said he doesn’t think the Trump administration’s drive is based on legitimate intelligence and that it’s more of a political stance than anything else. Huawei, which provides critical telecommunications equipment, poses a much clearer security threat than TikTok, Sherman said.

“All of these statements, policy announcements, and strategies focused on Chinese technology are really about politics. It’s about taking positions and looking tough in this trade war, ”said Sherman.

The company has taken steps to define itself as a US entity, seeking to divert attention from its Chinese property. In May ByteDance hired Kevin Mayer, an American who spent most of his career at Walt Disney Co., as the new CEO of TikTok. The company also stopped using Chinese moderators to monitor content in other countries this year.

Unlike Trump’s battle with Huawei, which primarily affected American companies that sell computer hardware and internet access in rural areas, the administration’s battle with TikTok could mean depriving millions of American users of an increasing service. Dear.

Tobias Rugger, a teacher in the San Francisco public school system, uses TikTok regularly to find videos of the Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality, as well as to entertain himself. “It is fast, to the point, and in my opinion, relevant information from people I trust,” he said.

Rugger said he is deeply concerned that an offensive against TikTok would stifle the voices he trusts and would serve to boost Trump’s grip on the national conversation.

Last week, India banned the app as part of a growing border dispute between Beijing and New Delhi. With 200 million users, India is the largest international TikTok market.

The move was a severe blow to villagers, low-caste Indians and others in underserved settings for whom the app was a source of delight, and for many, even viral fame and required income.

Sherman said that if the Trump administration decides to pursue the app ban in the U.S., it would raise all kinds of questions about legality and technical implementation. What does even a ban mean? Is blocking applications on the Internet even legal? Sherman said.

Regardless, it’s clear that TikTok will remain in the spotlight in the coming months.

“This is just the first chapter of what a fairly long soap opera will be,” Ives said.