India has banned TikTok along with dozens of other Chinese-owned apps. The US says it is looking into doing the same © HAYOUNG JEON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

US bank Wells Fargo has ordered some of its staff to delete social network TikTok from their work devices over “privacy and security” concerns, while Amazon said an email instructing employees to do the same was “sent in error”.

Corporate staff at the ecommerce group had received a memo early on Friday demanding TikTok be uninstalled from any device that accessed corporate email, citing “security risks” related to the Chinese-owned viral video app.

“If you have TikTok on your device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to Amazon email,” the email said. It added: “At this time, using TikTok from your Amazon laptop browser is allowed.”

Several hours later, an Amazon spokesperson said the email had been a mistake. “There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok,” the spokesperson said.

The company would not say how and why the email came to be written, or whether it had been intended for a smaller audience within Amazon.

Shortly after the U-turn, it emerged that Wells Fargo had asked what it said was a small number of employees to remove the app from their devices.

Wells Fargo said the decision, first reported by The Information, was taken earlier this week “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”.

The day of confusion comes as the use of Chinese-owned apps, particularly TikTok, comes under intense scrutiny over data gathering and other possible security implications.

A TikTok spokesperson said the app had “not been contacted by Wells Fargo”, adding “but as with any organisation that has concerns, we are open to engaging with them constructively and sharing the actions we take to protect data security for our users”.

The TikTok spokesperson had said earlier Amazon “did not communicate to us before sending their email” and that it did “not understand their concerns”.

TikTok, owned by one of China’s largest private companies, ByteDance, has exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, breaking the quarterly record for installs in the first quarter of this year for any app to date.

But its Chinese roots have prompted concerns over privacy, security and the censorship of content. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said earlier this week that the country might look to block Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, over national security fears.

When asked by Fox News whether Americans should use the app, Mr Pompeo replied: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist party.”

A person familiar with the Democratic National Committee said it had for months advised staff to refrain from using the app on personal devices, and that campaigns were urged to use a separate phone and account if using the app for work.

In India, TikTok was one of 59 Chinese-owned apps banned at the end of June over accusations from the country’s ministry of electronics and information technology of data privacy breaches.

TikTok has long insisted its business outside China, including content moderation and data policies, is not dictated by its managers within the mainland.

ByteDance said this week it was “evaluating changes to the corporate structure of its TikTok business” as global regulators pressure it to prove its independence. 

In particular, it said it was weighing options such as building a TikTok management board separate from the existing ByteDance one, as well as establishing headquarters for the app outside of China — an apparent U-turn just weeks after it told the Financial Times that such measures were not under consideration.

ByteDance also recently hired Kevin Mayer, former Disney executive, as TikTok’s chief executive, in an effort to bolster the app’s reputation in the US and expand its growing advertising business.

TikTok earlier this week said it would pull out of Hong Kong in order to protect users, after Beijing imposed a sweeping new national security law that has raised concerns about how data is handled in the city.

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Laura Noonan in New York


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