The US state of Montana becomes the first in the country to ban TikTok, in a move to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China.
On Wednesday, the governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, signed legislation to ban the Chinese-owned app from operating in the state.
Montana will make it unlawful for Google and Apple’s app stores to offer TikTok within the state, but will not impose any penalties on individuals using the app. The ban is set to take effect from January 1, 2024 but is almost certain to face legal challenges.
TikTok has responded by calling the ban ‘unlawful’ and the signing of the bill an infringement on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana.
‘We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.’ said a TikTok spokesperson.
TikTok, which has over 150 million American users, has faced growing calls from US lawmakers and state officials to ban the app nationwide over concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.
The app has become wildly popular with teens. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of US teens ages 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16% of all teens say they use the app almost constantly. TikTok has said that the ‘vast majority’ of its users are over the age of 18.
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled by a hostile House of Representatives committee as they discussed a ban on the popular video-sharing app.
The Biden administration has previously demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners divest their stakes in the app or face a possible US ban.
Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further ‘our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance’.
TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.
The company has highlighted it’s work 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.
Montana, which has a population of just over 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines of $10,000 per day if it violates the ban.
The short video app is currently available to downloaded on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. If the ban goes through, both Apple and Google, could also face fines of $10,000 per violation, per day for violating the ban.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) slammed the law as ‘unconstitutional’ and noted that it will go into effect next year if the courts do not act.
‘With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,’ Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement.
During his presidency, Donald Trump had tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by US courts.
Gianforte also prohibited the use of all social media apps that collect and provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices. Among the apps he listed are WeChat, whose parent company is headquartered in China and Telegram, founded in Russia.