Justice Department says WeChat users won’t be penalized under Trump’s executive order

In a Wednesday filing in federal court, the United States government said that users who use or download WeChat “to convey personal or business information” will not be subject to penalties under President Donald Trump’s executive order banning transactions with the Tencent-owned messaging app.

Trump issued the executive order against WeChat on August 6, the same day he issued a similar one banning transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, claiming national security concerns. Both orders caused confusion because they are set to go into effect 45 days after being issued, but said that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will not identify what transactions are covered until then.

With that deadline now looming at the end of this week, WeChat users in America are still uncertain about the app’s future. Though WeChat is the top messaging app by far in China, where it also serves as an essential conduit for payments and other services, the U.S. version of the app has relatively limited features. It is used by Chinese-Americans, and other members of the Chinese disapora in the U.S., to keep in touch with their family and other people in China. With other popular messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, banned in China, WeChat is often the most direct communication channel available to them.

The U.S. government’s filing (embedded below) was made as part of a request for a preliminary injunction against the executive order brought by the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a non-profit organization initiated by attorneys who want to preserve access to WeChat for users in the U.S. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

In it, attorneys from the Justice Department said the U.S. Commerce Department is continuing to review transactions and will clarify which ones are affected by Sept. 20, but “we can provide assurances that [Secretary Ross] does not intend to take actions that would target persons or groups whose only connection to WeChat is their use or downloading of the app to convey personal or business information between users, or otherwise define the relevant transaction in such a way that would impose criminal or civil liability on such users.”

But in a response (also embedded below), the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance said that the Department of Justice’s filing instead demonstrates why a preliminary injunction is necessary. “Having first failed to articulate any actual national security concerns, the administration’s latest ‘assurances’ that users can keep using WeChat, and exchange their personal and business information, only further illustrates the hollowness and pre-textual nature of the Defendants’ ‘national security rationales.'”

The U.S. WeChat Users Alliance filed for the injunction on August 21. In an open letter published on its site, it said a complete ban of WeChat “will severely affect the lives and the work of millions of people in the U.S. They will have a difficult time talking to family relatives and friends back in China. Countless people or businesses who use WeChat to develop and contact customers will also suffer significant economic losses.”

The group also believes that the executive order “violates many provisions of the U.S. Constitution,” and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Trump signs executive orders banning transactions with TikTok and WeChat

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday banning transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of popular app TikTok . The White House also announced that he signed a similar order banning transactions with Tencent-owned WeChat, a messaging app that is ubiquitous in China, but has a much smaller presence than TikTok in the United States, where it is used mainly by members of the Chinese diaspora. Both orders will take effect in 45 days.

The orders cite the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.  It is important to note that naming the apps’ operations in the United States as a national emergency is an act that is highly unprecedented and the legality of the orders will likely be challenged.

Microsoft announced over the weekend that it is in negotiations to buy TikTok from ByteDance, naming September 15 as a deadline for negotiations. The order would take affect shortly after the deadline set by Microsoft for the deal. ByteDance reportedly agreed to give up its entire ownership in the app even though it had previously wanted to maintain a minority stake.

Trump announced at the end of last month that he planned to ban TikTok through the use of an executive order. The president and government officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, have made escalating comments over the past few weeks alleging that TikTok is a threat to national security. While TikTok is owned by ByteDance, the Beijing-based company (which also operates a Chinese version of the app called Douyin) has taken steps to distance TikTok from its Chinese operations, and claims that its data is stored outside of China.

The executive order on ByteDance said that “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China…continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”

In 45 days, transactions by any person or property subject to U.S. jurisdiction with ByteDance or any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited “to the extent that they are permitted under applicable law.” The order claims that TikTok’s access to user data including location, browsing and search histories “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to American’s personal and proprietary information–potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”

Trump’s executive order on WeChat was less expected, but not a complete surprise because Pompeo named the messaging app earlier this week when he said Trump was planning to take action “shortly” on TikTok and other Chinese companies. Like ByteDance, Trump claims WeChat’s data collection is a national security threat and may give the Chinese Communist Party access to user information. The order also cites WeChat’s censorship of material deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government.

TechCrunch has contacted ByteDance, TikTok, WeChat and Microsoft for comment.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Trump signs executive orders banning transactions with TikTok and WeChat

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday banning transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of popular app TikTok . The White House also announced that he signed a similar order banning transactions with Tencent-owned WeChat, a messaging app that is ubiquitous in China, but has a much smaller presence than TikTok in the United States, where it is used mainly by members of the Chinese diaspora. Both orders will take effect in 45 days.

The orders cite the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.  It is important to note that naming the apps’ operations in the United States as a national emergency is an act that is highly unprecedented and the legality of the orders will likely be challenged.

Microsoft announced over the weekend that it is in negotiations to buy TikTok from ByteDance, naming September 15 as a deadline for negotiations. The order would take affect shortly after the deadline set by Microsoft for the deal. ByteDance reportedly agreed to give up its entire ownership in the app even though it had previously wanted to maintain a minority stake.

Trump announced at the end of last month that he planned to ban TikTok through the use of an executive order. The president and government officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, have made escalating comments over the past few weeks alleging that TikTok is a threat to national security. While TikTok is owned by ByteDance, the Beijing-based company (which also operates a Chinese version of the app called Douyin) has taken steps to distance TikTok from its Chinese operations, and claims that its data is stored outside of China.

The executive order on ByteDance said that “the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China…continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”

In 45 days, transactions by any person or property subject to U.S. jurisdiction with ByteDance or any of its subsidiaries will be prohibited “to the extent that they are permitted under applicable law.” The order claims that TikTok’s access to user data including location, browsing and search histories “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to American’s personal and proprietary information–potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”

Trump’s executive order on WeChat was less expected, but not a complete surprise because Pompeo named the messaging app earlier this week when he said Trump was planning to take action “shortly” on TikTok and other Chinese companies. Like ByteDance, Trump claims WeChat’s data collection is a national security threat and may give the Chinese Communist Party access to user information. The order also cites WeChat’s censorship of material deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government.

TechCrunch has contacted ByteDance, TikTok, WeChat and Microsoft for comment.

This story is developing and will be updated.

More Chinese phones could lose US apps under Trump’s Clean Network

Over a third of the world’s smartphone sales come from Chinese vendors Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo. These manufacturers have thrived not only because they offer value-for-money handsets thanks to China’s supply chains, but they also enjoy a relatively open mobile ecosystem, in which consumers in most countries can freely access the likes of Google, Instagram and WhatsApp.

That openness is under attack as the great U.S.-China tech divide inches closer to reality, which can cause harm on both sides.

The Trump Administration’s five-pronged Clean Network initiative aims to strip away Chinese phone makers’ ability to pre-install and download U.S. apps. Under U.S. sanctions, Huawei already lost access to key Google services, which has dealt a blow to its overseas phone sales. Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and other Chinese phone makers could suffer the same setback as Huawei, should the Clean Network applies to them.

For years, China has maintained a closed-up internet with the Great Firewall restricting a bevy of Western services, often without explicitly presenting the reasons for censorship. Now the U.S. has a plan that could potentially keep Chinese apps off the American internet.

The Clean Network program was first announced in April as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts in “guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

Many on Chinese social media compare Trump’s Clean Network proposal to routine cyberspace crackdowns in China, which regulators say are to purge pornography, violence, gambling, and other ‘illegal’ activities. Others that espouse a free internet lament its looming demise.

It’s unclear when the rules would be implemented and how they would be enforced. The program also aims to remove ‘untrusted’ Chinese apps from US app stores. A TikTok ban is looking less likely as Microsoft nears a buyout, but other Chinese apps also have a big presence in the U.S. Many, like WeChat and Weibo, target the diaspora community, while players like Likee and Zynn, owned by Chinese firms, are making waves among local users.

Chinese firms are already hedging. Some like TikTok have set up overseas data centers. Others register their entities abroad and maintain U.S. offices, while still resorting to China for cheaper engineering talents. It’s simply impractical to investigate — and hard to determine — every app’s Chinese origin.

Under the program, carriers like China Mobile are not allowed to connect with U.S. telecoms networks, which could prevent these services from offering U.S. roaming to Chinese travelers.

The initiative also tells U.S. companies not to store information on Chinese cloud services like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. Chinese cloud providers don’t find many clients in the U.S., perhaps except when they are hosting data for their own services, such as Tencent games serving American users.

Lastly, the framework wants to ensure U.S. undersea cables connecting to the world “are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper-scale.”

Such sweeping restrictions, if carried out, will almost certainly trigger retaliation from China. But what bargaining chips are left for Beijing? Apple and Tesla are the few American tech behemoths with significant business interest in China.

More Chinese phones could lose US apps under Trump’s Clean Network

Over a third of the world’s smartphone sales come from Chinese vendors Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo. These manufacturers have thrived not only because they offer value-for-money handsets thanks to China’s supply chains, but they also enjoy a relatively open mobile ecosystem, in which consumers in most countries can freely access the likes of Google, Instagram and WhatsApp.

That openness is under attack as the great U.S.-China tech divide inches closer to reality, which can cause harm on both sides.

The Trump Administration’s five-pronged Clean Network initiative aims to strip away Chinese phone makers’ ability to pre-install and download U.S. apps. Under U.S. sanctions, Huawei already lost access to key Google services, which has dealt a blow to its overseas phone sales. Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and other Chinese phone makers could suffer the same setback as Huawei, should the Clean Network applies to them.

For years, China has maintained a closed-up internet with the Great Firewall restricting a bevy of Western services, often without explicitly presenting the reasons for censorship. Now the U.S. has a plan that could potentially keep Chinese apps off the American internet.

The Clean Network program was first announced in April as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts in “guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

Many on Chinese social media compare Trump’s Clean Network proposal to routine cyberspace crackdowns in China, which regulators say are to purge pornography, violence, gambling, and other ‘illegal’ activities. Others that espouse a free internet lament its looming demise.

It’s unclear when the rules would be implemented and how they would be enforced. The program also aims to remove ‘untrusted’ Chinese apps from US app stores. A TikTok ban is looking less likely as Microsoft nears a buyout, but other Chinese apps also have a big presence in the U.S. Many, like WeChat and Weibo, target the diaspora community, while players like Likee and Zynn, owned by Chinese firms, are making waves among local users.

Chinese firms are already hedging. Some like TikTok have set up overseas data centers. Others register their entities abroad and maintain U.S. offices, while still resorting to China for cheaper engineering talents. It’s simply impractical to investigate — and hard to determine — every app’s Chinese origin.

Under the program, carriers like China Mobile are not allowed to connect with U.S. telecoms networks, which could prevent these services from offering U.S. roaming to Chinese travelers.

The initiative also tells U.S. companies not to store information on Chinese cloud services like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. Chinese cloud providers don’t find many clients in the U.S., perhaps except when they are hosting data for their own services, such as Tencent games serving American users.

Lastly, the framework wants to ensure U.S. undersea cables connecting to the world “are not subverted for intelligence gathering by the PRC at hyper-scale.”

Such sweeping restrictions, if carried out, will almost certainly trigger retaliation from China. But what bargaining chips are left for Beijing? Apple and Tesla are the few American tech behemoths with significant business interest in China.

Pompeo says U.S. may take action against TikTok and other Chinese tech companies “shortly”

Days after President Donald Trump announced he could use an executive order to ban TikTok from the United States, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the administration is “closing in on a solution and I think you’ll see the president’s announcement shortly.”

In an interview on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo, Pompeo also said that the Trump administration may take action against other Chinese tech companies doing business in the U.S., claiming that some are “feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, is currently in talks with Microsoft to sell its TikTok business in the U.S. and several other countries to the U.S. tech giant. The negotiations have taken on extra urgency over the last two weeks as U.S. scrutiny of TikTok increased.

Microsoft said on Sunday that it is in discussions to buy TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand by September 15, and that its chief executive officer, Satya Nadella had talked to Trump about the president’s security concerns.

The company’s announcement came after reports that a potential Microsoft-TikTok deal would put Microsoft in charge of protecting U.S.-based users’ data. Reuters reported last week that ByteDance will completely relinquish control to Microsoft, even though it had previously wanted to hold onto a minority stake in the U.S. TikTok business.

Notably, Microsoft didn’t mention India in its statement, even though TikTok was banned there in June, along with 58 other apps developed by Chinese companies that the Indian government deemed potential threats to national security.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last Wednesday that TikTok is under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). This follows an earlier investigation by the CFIUS into whether ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly in 2018, which it merged with TikTok, constitutes a national security threat. A decision on the TikTok-Musical.ly review still hasn’t been released.

When asked by Bartiromo if a sale would be enough to placate the U.S. government, Pompeo said the Trump administration would “make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people.”

But several Republican lawmakers have said that a sale would not be enough. Marc Rubio, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Financial Times last week that TikTok still needs to answer questions about where its data is store and how it is protected.

“Until TikTok’s owners—regardless of who that might be—can answer these basic questions and get its story straight, I remain concerned about the company’s activities and reported ties to China,” Rubio said.

Beyond TikTok

The day before Pompeo’s Fox News interview, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News that the Trump administration is also reviewing “any kind of software that sends the information for Americans back to servers in China.”

Pompeo also suggested that the U.S. government may take action against more Chinese technology companies. “These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat—there are countless more, as Peter Navarro said, are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus, could be their facial recognition pattern, information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends,” he alleged.

Pompeo added that Trump will “take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” but did not elaborate on what that will entail or what companies might be affected.

The U.S. government said last month that it may restrict WeChat in China, even though the version of WeChat available in the U.S. has far less features than the one in China, where it is used for payments, bookings e-commerce and other functions in addition to messaging. While WeChat is ubiquitous in China, its user base in the U.S. is much smaller, and it is primarily used by members of the Chinese diaspora and foreign businesses that have operations or a connection in China.

Tencent wants to take full control of long-time search ally Sogou

It’s been seven years since Tencent picked up a 36.5% stake in Sogou to fend off rival Baidu in the online search market. The social and gaming giant is now offering to buy out and take private its long-time ally.

NYSE-listed Sogou said this week it has received a preliminary non-binding proposal from Tencent to acquire its remaining shares for $9 each American depositary share (ADS) it doesn’t already own. That means Sohu, a leading web portal in the Chinese desktop era and the controlling shareholder in Sogou, will no longer hold an interest in the search firm.

Sohu’s board of directors has not yet had an opportunity to review the proposal or determine whether or not to take the offer, the company stated. Sogou’s shares leaped 48% on the news to $8.51 on Monday, yet still far below its all-time high at $13.85 at the time of its initial public offering.

Founded in 2005, Sogou went public in late 2017 billing itself as a challenger to China’s biggest search service Baidu, though it has long been a distant second. The company also operates the top Chinese input software, which is used by 482 million people every day to type and convert voice to text, according to its Q1 earnings report.

Ever since the strategic partnership with Tencent kicked off, Sogou, which means “Search Dog” in Chinese, has been the default search engine for WeChat and benefited immensely from the giant’s traffic, though WeChat has also developed its own search feature.

The potential buyout will add Sogou to a list of Chinese companies to delist from the U.S. as tensions between the countries heighten in recent times. It will also allay concerns amongst investors who worry WeChat Search would make Sogou redundant. So far WeChat’s proprietary search function appears to be gleaning data mainly within the app’s enclave, from users’ news feed, user-generated articles, e-commerce stores, through to lite apps integrated into WeChat.

That’s a whole lot of content and services targeted at WeChat’s 1.2 billion active users. Many people need not look beyond the chat app to consumer news, order food, play games, or purchase groceries. But there remains information outside the enormous ecosystem, and that’s Sogou’s turf — to bring what’s available on the open web (of course, subject to government censorship like all Chinese services) to WeChat users.

The arrangement reflects an endemic practice on the Chinese internet — giants blocking each other or making it hard for rivals to access their content. The goal is to lock in traffic and user insights. For instance, articles published on WeChat can’t be searched on Baidu. Consumers can’t open Alibaba shopping links without leaving WeChat.

Sogou is hardly WeChat’s sole search ally. To capture a full range of information needs, the messenger has also struck deals to co-opt fellow microblogging platform Weibo, Quora-like Zhihu, and social commerce service Xiaohongshu into its search pool.

Tencent wants to take full control of long-time search ally Sogou

It’s been seven years since Tencent picked up a 36.5% stake in Sogou to fend off rival Baidu in the online search market. The social and gaming giant is now offering to buy out and take private its long-time ally.

NYSE-listed Sogou said this week it has received a preliminary non-binding proposal from Tencent to acquire its remaining shares for $9 each American depositary share (ADS) it doesn’t already own. That means Sohu, a leading web portal in the Chinese desktop era and the controlling shareholder in Sogou, will no longer hold an interest in the search firm.

Sohu’s board of directors has not yet had an opportunity to review the proposal or determine whether or not to take the offer, the company stated. Sogou’s shares leaped 48% on the news to $8.51 on Monday, yet still far below its all-time high at $13.85 at the time of its initial public offering.

Founded in 2005, Sogou went public in late 2017 billing itself as a challenger to China’s biggest search service Baidu, though it has long been a distant second. The company also operates the top Chinese input software, which is used by 482 million people every day to type and convert voice to text, according to its Q1 earnings report.

Ever since the strategic partnership with Tencent kicked off, Sogou, which means “Search Dog” in Chinese, has been the default search engine for WeChat and benefited immensely from the giant’s traffic, though WeChat has also developed its own search feature.

The potential buyout will add Sogou to a list of Chinese companies to delist from the U.S. as tensions between the countries heighten in recent times. It will also allay concerns amongst investors who worry WeChat Search would make Sogou redundant. So far WeChat’s proprietary search function appears to be gleaning data mainly within the app’s enclave, from users’ news feed, user-generated articles, e-commerce stores, through to lite apps integrated into WeChat.

That’s a whole lot of content and services targeted at WeChat’s 1.2 billion active users. Many people need not look beyond the chat app to consumer news, order food, play games, or purchase groceries. But there remains information outside the enormous ecosystem, and that’s Sogou’s turf — to bring what’s available on the open web (of course, subject to government censorship like all Chinese services) to WeChat users.

The arrangement reflects an endemic practice on the Chinese internet — giants blocking each other or making it hard for rivals to access their content. The goal is to lock in traffic and user insights. For instance, articles published on WeChat can’t be searched on Baidu. Consumers can’t open Alibaba shopping links without leaving WeChat.

Sogou is hardly WeChat’s sole search ally. To capture a full range of information needs, the messenger has also struck deals to co-opt fellow microblogging platform Weibo, Quora-like Zhihu, and social commerce service Xiaohongshu into its search pool.

Snap turns on Minis, bite-sized third-party apps in Snapchat

A set of mini apps has gone live on Snapchat platform, marking the beginning of a new chapter for Los Angeles-headquartered firm as it aims to emulate aspects of the popular Chinese “super-app” model.

Unveiled last month, Snap Minis are lightweight, simplified versions of apps that live within Snap’s Chat section. These apps — built with HTML — are designed to improve engagement among users by enabling them to perform a range of additional tasks without leaving Snap app.

Four of the seven “Minis” that Snap unveiled last month are now available across the platform. These mini apps that are going live today are: Meditation service Headspace, studying collaboration tool Flashcards, an “interactive messaging experience” service called Prediction Master, and Let’s Do It, a mini app developed by Snap itself that allows users to make decision with their friends.

Mini apps unveiled by Coachella that would allow users to plan festival trip, Atom’s movie ticketing, and Saturn, which is aimed at helping students share and compare their class schedules are yet to go live.

The rollout on Monday is nonetheless an important shift in Snap’s strategy to boost engagement on its ephemeral messaging app, which has amassed over 229 million daily users.

Though a relatively new concept in the U.S. and UK, mini apps model is quite popular in Asian markets. Tencent’s WeChat has attracted over a million miniature apps that allow users to perform a range of tasks.

In India, mobile payments services PhonePe and Paytm have rolled out several such in-apps, too, that allow users to book flight and movie tickets and order food and cabs.

Snapchat has previously said that its relationship with Tencent, an investor in the Los Angeles firm, has been influential in its decision to replicate the super-app offering.

The strategy looks promising — at least on paper. It’s a win-win scenario for both Snap and the developers who make these mini-apps. By gaining access to these mini-apps, Snap can potentially see a boost in user engagement, and developers are able to cater to a whole set of new audience.

But whether this model finds home with users in the U.S. and the UK and other markets where Snap has made inroads — and regions that unlike China are open — remains a mystery. As my colleague Lucas pointed out last month, Facebook has attempted to replicate the WeChat model through chatbots on Messenger over the years to little success.

US threatens to restrict WeChat following TikTok backlash

Amid intense scrutiny over TikTok, WeChat, the essential tool for Chinese people’s day-to-day life, is also taking the heat from the U.S.

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro told Fox Business on Sunday that “[TikTok] and WeChat are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland, and so expect strong action on that.”

Navarro alleged that “all of the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese communist party, and the agencies which want to steal our intellectual property.”

The biggest difference between restricting the two apps is the demographics that will be affected: outside of China, WeChat is mainly used by Chinese diaspora and foreign businesses with a footprint or connection in China, while TikTok is primarily used by local users across international markets.

It’s unclear how the restriction will play out, if it will at all, though some WeChat users are already speculating workarounds to stay in touch with their family and friends back home. In the case that the Tencent-owned messenger is removed by Apple App Store or Google Play, U.S.-based users could switch to another regional store to download the app. If it were an IP address ban, they could potentially access the app through virtual private networks (VPNs), tools that are familiar to many in China to access online services blocked by Beijing’s Great Firewall.

VPNs are not necessarily for battling censorship. It’s not uncommon to see overseas Chinese setting their IP address to their home country in order to stream shows on Chinese video platforms that are unavailable abroad due to licensing restrictions.

Navarro’s message arrived shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the U.S. government is looking to ban TikTok. Launched by Chinese internet upstart ByteDance, TikTok has been working to distance itself from its Chinese association through efforts such as storing data on American land and overhauling its corporate structure.

American corporations are responding to the politicians’ call to boycott TikTok over security concerns. Wells Fargo told employees to remove TikTok from their phones. Amazon asked its staff to do the same but quickly backtracked from its demand.