Amazon Gaffe Caps Tough Week for TikTok

Adriana Lee

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After Amazon instructed employees to delete TikTok from their mobile devices via e-mail on Friday, the company reversed course hours later, saying it was mistakenly sent.

The company seemed to take issue with TikTok’s presence on phones that also connect to Amazon e-mail, citing “security risks,” before admitting later that day that the message was “sent in error.”

The matter was baffling to begin with — particularly to TikTok. In the wake of Friday morning’s e-mail, a spokeswoman told WWD, “While Amazon did not communicate to us before sending their e-mail, and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialogue so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community.”

It’s not clear if Amazon’s actions were due to a strange prank that went awry or if it stemmed from some sort of internal concern regarding the app.

Either way, it’s probably the last thing TikTok wants right now.

Despite emphasizing that it operates on American soil under American leadership, TikTok has still attracted scrutiny for its ownership by Beijing-based Bytedance. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cast such social Chinese apps as a national security threat, and said the Trump administration is mulling over a ban.

Signaling that it takes privacy seriously, TikTok announced this week that it would pull out of Hong Kong after the introduction of a new security law that requires online publishing platforms to give Chinese officials access to user data. The issue also prompted Facebook, Google, Twitter, Signal, Microsoft, Zoom and Telegram to cease responding to requests for user data from the Hong Kong government. India had blocked the app, along with other Chinese apps, and now the U.S. seems interested in following suit.

None of that seems to have dissuaded TikTok’s core audience of teenagers and young adults. As coronavirus stay-at-home orders got underway, usage surged and now downloads number more than 2 billion around the world. By some metrics, the U.S. accounts for just over 8 percent of those downloads.

As far as influence goes, the platform appears to enjoy quite a bit, at least judging from the Trump campaign’s Tulsa rally in June. That’s when TikTok teens swamped attendee registration en masse with no intention of actually showing up at the event. Ultimately, the rally filled only a fraction of available seats at Tulsa’s BOK Center.

Now they’re at it again: Upset over the White House’s threat to block TikToke, users appear to have unleashed a deluge of negative App Store reviews of Trump’s 2020 re-election app in the hopes of getting it pulled.

Still, the events swirling around TikTok — whether inadvertent or not — point to some uncertainty in its fate, and that could make brands or potential partners nervous.

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