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Amazon says memo banning staff from using TikTok was sent by mistake

By | Published on Monday 13 July 2020


Amazon told all of its corporate staff on Friday that they mustn’t use big bad TikTok on any mobile device also running the company’s own email app because, well, I mean, you know, phew, we all know why, right?

Of course we know. Well, we can guess. Probably. Can we? I mean, we could ask Amazon about its motivation for the TikTok ban. Except when people started doing just that, the word came back from Amazon HQ that TikTok wasn’t, in fact, banned. “We love them TikToks!” declared the Amazon comms team, basically, presumably somehow cleverly lip-syncing their statement to the latest Doja Cat track.

Of course, plenty of concerns about the China-owned TikTok app – and principally what happens to all the data that it gathers – have been expressed in both corporate and political circles at various points over the last year.

Owner Bytedance continues to insist that it complies with all data protection laws around the world, that it isn’t handing over any information about its global userbase to the Chinese government, and that it’s non-China operations are fully autonomous from its in-China operations.

In a bid to further that narrative, the company has been concurrently boosting its offices and workforce outside its home country, not least by hiring former Disney exec Kevin Mayer as CEO. Meanwhile, it has also ramped up its efforts to court the global music industry.

However, the data concerns never went away, and the recent decision of the Indian government to ban the app entirely has pushed those concerns back up the agenda. Even though it was one of 59 Chinese mobile apps to be banned by Indian ministers, who were mainly responding to recently increased tensions between India and China linked to a very long-running border dispute.

Though there has also been plenty of chatter to the effect that the US government could follow India’s lead in cracking down on the app, not least because of comments made by the country’s Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo.

And while tough talk from Donald Trump’s team could be seen as a petty backlash to all those young TikTok users trolling the President by booking up tickets for his recent Tulsa rally with no intention of attending, concerns about the Chinese app in Washington are hardly new. And in Congress, concerns have been expressed on both sides of the political spectrum.

Hence why the news that Amazon had sent a memo out to its staff announcing a TikTok ban late last week quickly grabbed the headlines. But almost as soon as said headlines had been grabbed, the web giant announced that the memo had gone out by mistake. Amazon employees are welcome to carry on TikToking on any mobile device also running the company’s email client.

“There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok”, a spokesperson said. No explanation was given for why the memo went out by mistake. Some have speculated it was intended for a smaller team of Amazon employees, rather than all corporate staff.

But while the headline-grabbing Amazon ban of TikTok turned out to be a mistake, US bank Wells Fargo has asked some of its employees to remove the app from their company devices. Partly for security reasons. And partly because, well, hey bankers, what are you doing TikToking on your corporate device?

The bank told reporters: “Due to concerns about TikTok’s privacy and security controls and practices, and because corporate-owned devices should be used for company business only, we have directed those employees to remove the app from their devices”.

For its part, TikTok has said that it wasn’t approached by Wells Fargo about its concerns. It would more than happy to have a reassuring data discussion with the bankers, the company added. And, presumably, if necessary, with Amazon HQ. And the Indian government. And Trump and Pompeo.

They’re going to be busy. If only you could allay data security concerns with some kind of viral dance move gimmick. Then TikTok would be sorted.