AP – Roughly five hours after an internal e-mail went out on Friday to Amazon employees telling them to delete the popular video app TikTok from their phones, the online retailing giant appeared to backtrack, calling the ban a mistake.
“This morning’s e-mail to some of our employees was sent in error,” Amazon e-mailed reporters just before 5pm Eastern time. “There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”
Company spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to answer questions about what caused the confounding turnaround or error.
The initial internal e-mail, which was disseminated widely online, told employees to delete TikTok, a video app increasingly popular with young people but also the focus of intensifying national-security and geopolitical concerns because of its Chinese ownership. The e-mail cited the app’s “security risks”.
An Amazon employee who confirmed receipt of the initial e-mail but was not authorised to speak publicly had not seen a retraction at the time of Amazon’s backtrack.
Amazon is the second-largest United States (US) private employer after Walmart. Moving against TikTok could have escalated pressure on the app in a big way, particularly if other companies did the same. The US military already bans TikTok on employee phones and the company is subject to a national-security review of its merger history.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that the government was “certainly looking” at banning the app, setting off confused and irritated posts as well as jokes by TikTok users.
Chinese Internet company ByteDance owns TikTok, which is designed for users outside of China; it also makes a Chinese version called Douyin. Like YouTube, TikTok relies on its users for the videos that populate its app. It has a reputation for fun, goofy videos and is popular with young people, including millions of Americans.
But critics have cited concerns, including the possibility of TikTok censoring videos, such as those critical of the Chinese government, sharing user data with Chinese officials, and violating kids’ privacy. TikTok has said it doesn’t censor videos based on topics sensitive to China and it would not give the Chinese government access to US user data even if asked.
TikTok said earlier in the day that Amazon did not notify it before sending the initial e-mail around midday Eastern time on Friday. That e-mail read, “The TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon e-mail.” To retain mobile access to company e-mail, employees had to delete the TikTok app by the end of the day.
“We still do not understand their concerns,” TikTok said at the time, adding that the company would welcome a dialogue to address Amazon’s issues. A TikTok spokeswoman declined to comment further on Friday evening.
TikTok has been trying to appease critics in the US and distance itself from its Chinese roots, but finds itself caught in an increasingly sticky geopolitical web.