- Wells Fargo told employees to remove TikTok from company devices because of privacy concerns on the same day Amazon publicly reversed a decision to ban the social video app, The Verge reported, citing a statement from the bank.
- Wells Fargo identified a "small number" of employees with company-owned mobile devices who had installed TikTok, which is run by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, and directed them to remove the app.
- Amazon on Friday sent an email to workers ordering them to delete TikTok from their smartphones due to "security risks," and later said the email was sent in error. "There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement cited by The New York Times.
Wells Fargo's decision to ban TikTok from company-owned devices likely will have a limited effect on mobile marketers unless it portends a broader crackdown on the social video app around concerns about security and data privacy. TikTok is mostly used by consumers on their personal smartphones — not on devices that companies supply to their workers — giving mobile marketers a chance to reach a broad audience of millions of people. The app is especially popular with Generation Z and may have a longer-term effect on the cohort's media consumption habits, as other social media apps have had on older demographic groups.
The Wells Fargo decision came a few days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News that the Trump administration was weighing whether to crack down on TikTok because of concerns that China's government could use the app for surveillance and propaganda. It's not clear how such a ban would work, though the U.S. government this year ordered military personnel to remove TikTok from government-issued and personal smartphones because of national security concerns.
For TikTok users in the U.S., a ban would be unpopular among its key Gen Z audience. More than half (59%) of U.S. consumers ages 10 to 23 are opposed to banning TikTok, researcher Morning Consult found in a survey, compared with 47% of millennials, 28% of Gen Xers and 20% of baby boomers. Among the general population, 29% of Americans said they supported the ban.
With millions of people stuck indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, TikTok experienced a surge in popularity, adding 12 million users in the U.S. to bring its total to 52.2 million people, per Comscore data cited by eMarketer. TikTok's popularity among Gen Z has led marketers including Burger King, Chipotle Mexican Grill, E.l.f. Cosmetics and Warner Bros. to develop campaigns for the app.
The bigger concern for TikTok is losing its audience to government bans in countries such as India, and possibly in the U.S. and Australia. India last month included TikTok on a list of banned Chinese apps amid heightened military conflict with China. That restriction was a significant blow to TikTok, considering that India is its biggest market. Among TikTok's more than 2 billion lifetime downloads, 611 million were in India, or about 30% of the total, per an estimate by researcher Sensor Tower.
TikTok has taken steps to address concerns that it's subject to Chinese government control. TikTok has said that China's government has never requested information about U.S. users, and that the company would refuse to do so if asked. The app stores data about American users in the U.S., and keeps a backup in Singapore, Reuters reported.
As part of the effort to distance itself from China, TikTok this year hired Kevin Mayer as its new CEO. One of his key challenges will be convincing authorities that TikTok shouldn't be banned, giving the app a chance for more development as a mobile marketing platform. TikTok last month introduced a global hub for marketers and an augmented reality (AR) ad format as part of its first appearance at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) Digital Content NewFronts. TikTok now will have to step up efforts to address concerns about data privacy and security, or face more negative headlines as companies like Wells Fargo restrict its usage on company-owned devices.