TikTok just got banned in Montana — what that means for you

TikTok app icon on iPhone
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The idea that TikTok could be banned is not new, with even the federal government considering taking such action against the social video app. While certain states have banned the app from government devices, nobody has attempted to formally ban TikTok until now.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has signed a bill banning TikTok in the state, and announced that news on Twitter. According to the tweet, the app has been banned to “protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party”.

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According to CNN, the bill was voted on by Montana’s House of Representatives, passing 54-43. It specifically names TiKTok as its target and will prohibit the app from operating within the state’s borders. This will come into effect on January 1 2024, and an “entity” will be at risk of fines up to $10,000 a day. 

That apparently includes TikTok itself, and app stores hosting the app. That means the likes of Google and Apple could be forced to comply and prevent Montanans from being able to download the service. The penalties do not apply to users, so you won’t be forced to delete TikTok or run the risk of a fine by installing it in some other manner — such as sideloading on Android or using a VPN.

The bill almost included bans for apps “tied to foreign adversaries”, something Gianforte has intended, but apparently he wasn’t sent the bill in time to suggest any amendments. 

Naturally TikTok will be challenging this ban, telling CNN that such a ban is unlawful and infringes on Montana residents’ First Amendment rights. While the altruistic angle is nice, we assume TikTok wouldn’t be rolling over and accepting any attack on its ability to operate and do business. At the very least it sets a bad precedent for future hypothetical bans.

The ACLU has also criticized the bill, claiming the ban has “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.”

Why is TikTok being banned?

TikTok has been facing growing criticism over its ties to China, due to the fact it’s owned by Chinese company ByteDance. There have been fears that the Chinese government could access user data and spy on U.S. users in the process. The state of Montana isn’t the only entity coming after the social media app either.

Last year the FCC commissioner tried to get Google and Apple to pull TikTok from their app stores. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives also proposed a bill that would ban TikTok within the United States late last year. More recently the Biden administration has been considering a ban of the app unless ByteDance sells its stake in the company — at the recommendation of the The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). CFIUS is responsible for investigating cross-border investments and how much of a risk they could pose to national security.

Concerns about user data being accessed in China aren’t completely unfounded. Last June Buzzfeed reported that Bytedance may have led U.S. officials about how American user data is handled, with further investigations showing that Chinese engineers were controlling data access — and that data might be accessible by the Chinese government. A U.S.-based security was supposed to be in charge of this data handling.

There have also been fears that the Chinese government could exploit TikTok as a propaganda tool. 

Whether the Montana ban will hold up in court is another matter entirely — assuming TikTok is willing to launch a legal battle. TikTok isn’t the only one criticizing the move as an infringement of free speech rights, which are protected by the first amendment.  Legal battles are usually lengthy and time-consuming, so don’t expect any resolution anytime soon.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.