Montana becomes first US state to ban TikTok

·2-min read

Montana governor Greg Gianforte has signed legislation to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok from operating, making it the first US state to ban the popular short video app.

Montana will make it unlawful for Google and Apple's app stores to offer the TikTok app within its borders. The ban takes effect January 1, 2024.

TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, is facing growing calls from US politicians and state officials to ban the app nationwide over concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.

In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew about whether the Chinese government could access user data or influence what Americans see on the app.

Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further "our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance."

TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, said in a statement the bill "infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok," adding that they "will defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana."

The company has previously denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.

Montana, which has a population of just over 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines $US10,000 ($A15,021) per day if they violate the ban.

The short video app can be downloaded in app stores on Apple Inc and Google devices. Google is a unit of Alphabet Inc. Apple and Google could also face fines of $US10,000 per violation, per day if they violate the ban.

The ban will likely face numerous legal challenges that it violates the First Amendment free speech rights of users. An attempt by then President Donald Trump to ban new downloads of TikTok and WeChat through a Commerce Department order in 2020 was blocked by multiple courts and never took effect.

TikTok's free speech allies include several Democratic members of Congress including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and First Amendment groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

Opponents say Montana residents could easily circumvent the ban by using a virtual private network, a service that shields internet users by encrypting their data traffic, preventing others from observing their web browsing and other activities. 

Gianforte also prohibited the use of all social media applications that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices.

TikTok is working on an initiative called Project Texas, which creates a standalone entity to store American user data in the US on servers operated by US tech company Oracle.

with PA