Amazon employees last night faced something bizarre. First they were told to delete TikTok from their work phone. The employees were told about this in an email on Friday. The email was later leaked to the media and was shared on Twitter. Hours later, however, Amazon told the media in the US that the email was sent in error.
“Due to security risks, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email,” the short email informed Amazon employees. “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.”
Hours later Amazon said this was an error. “This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error,” an Amazon spokesman told the US media. “There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”
While Amazon in its email to employees did not specify why it was banning TikTok from work devices, it was likely due to the data that TikTok often collects when used. This data can then be potentially shared with the Chinese government TikTok denies it shares data with the Chinese government under China’s national intelligence law formulated in 2017.
Amazon “acted” — even if in error as we learnt later — against TikTok at a time when the app is facing significant challenges in convincing the world that it is a safe app, that it has no connections with the Chinese government, and it does not pose any privacy or national security risk. However, few are convinced. India recently banned and blocked TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese apps, citing national security and privacy reasons. Although, India’s move came at a time when India and China were having a border dispute in Ladakh, with the Chinese army acting as an aggressor and trying to encroach on Indian land.
However, India’s ban on TikTok has put spotlight on the app and its opaque privacy and content moderation policies. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said that the Trump administration was looking at banning TikTok in the country.
TikTok, meanwhile, has tried to distance itself from China. In the wake of China tightening its grip on Hong Kong, TikTok said that it was pulling out of the city. “In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a spokesman told the BBC. By Friday, TikTok was no longer available on the iOS and Google Play store for Hong Kong.
The recent moves from TikTok have been quite baffling. While TikTok has pulled out of Hong Kong, a small market for the app, saying that it is doing so due to a new regressive Chinese law, its parent company ByteDance also has a separate short video app called Douyin for Chinese users and that remains available in China.
In India, TikTok has said that it was working with the Indian government to resolve the issue. A day after the 59 Chinese apps were banned, TikTok’s India head Nikhil Gandhi had said, “The Government of India has issued an interim order for the blocking of 59 apps, including TikTok and we are in the process of complying with it. We have been invited to meet with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications.”