Montana Becomes First U.S. State to Ban TikTok: What It Means for Users?

Montana Bans TikTok

Montana became the first US state to ban TikTok. The news about TikTok might be banned in the US is nothing new. In fact, the app has been facing calls for a ban since it first launched in 2017. The concerns about TikTok stem from its ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance. It has been accused of collecting data from users and sharing it with the Chinese government. In 2020, the Trump administration attempted to outrightly ban TikTok. But the ban was blocked by courts.

In recent months, the pressure on TikTok has increased. TikTok’s CEO recently testified to Congress about the company’s data security practices. He assured lawmakers that TikTok doesn’t share user data with the Chinese government. And that the app is safe for Americans to use. Yet some lawmakers remain skeptical and are calling for a ban on the app. Amidst all this, on May 17, 2023, Montana passed a bill to ban TikTok.

TikTok is now banned in Montana

In a significant move, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed SB 419 into law on Wednesday, which makes Montana the first U.S. state to ban TikTok. The bill prohibits TikTok from operating within the state. It also requires mobile app stores to make the app unavailable to Montana residents.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte

Gianforte said he signed the bill to protect Montanans’ personal data from the Chinese government. “To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana” he stated on Twitter.

TikTok’s spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter, swiftly responded to the ban on May 18. She expresses concern over its potential infringement on First Amendment rights. In a tweet, Oberwetter wrote, “Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of #Montana by unlawfully banning #TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state.” She reassured Montanans that they could continue using TikTok for self-expression, livelihood, and community-building, while also pledging to advocate for the rights of TikTok users both within and outside of Montana.

This ban is the latest development in a series of actions taken by the U.S. government against TikTok. The federal government has already implemented a ban on TikTok’s usage on government devices. More than half of the U.S. states have followed suit. The Biden administration has also threatened to ban TikTok in the United States unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sells its stake in the app.

Ban will be effective from Jan 1, 2024

This ban will not immediately render TikTok usage illegal in Montana, as it is set to take effect on January 1, 2024. Thus, individuals currently utilizing TikTok will not face immediate legal repercussions.

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Under the proposed bill though, TikTok could incur fines for each violation. The platform could also face penalties amounting to $10,000 per day if it fails to comply with the ban. With over 150 million American users, including 67% of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17, TikTok holds significant popularity. Around 16% of all teenagers even admit to using the app almost constantly, as per Pew Research Center.

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Supporters of the bill argue that TikTok poses a national security threat due to its ownership by a Chinese company. But TikTok has refuted these allegations and maintains its commitment to safeguard users’ privacy.

Free Speech Concerns

As of now, Google and Apple have not responded to the ban. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized the bill, deeming it “unconstitutional.” They contend that it infringes upon individuals’ First Amendment rights to free speech. In a tweet, the ACLU expressed their concerns, stating, “This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet. Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”

The bill mandates that the mobile app operator should remove the option to download TikTok. But it does not explicitly address the usage of TikTok through web platforms. However, it’s likely that it will be banned in the future as well.

Challenges Faced by TikTok

TikTok has faced recurring challenges in the past, with bans imposed from different countries. In 2020, India became the first nation to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns. TikTok has refuted these allegations and expressed its dedication to safeguarding user data.

Challanges faced by TikTok

Subsequently, TikTok encountered bans in other countries as well. The countries include Canada and the United Kingdom, primarily on government devices. In each instance, national security concerns are the reason behind the prohibition. However, TikTok has consistently denied these claims. And emphasized its commitment to collaborating with governments to address their concerns.

Apart from the bans, TikTok has encountered difficulties in other domains as well. In the US, the app faced a $92 million fine in 2021. It was part of a settlement for a class-action lawsuit about privacy violations. The platform has also faced criticism for spreading misinformation time and again.

In response to the growing concerns, TikTok has announced to move its US user’s data to servers in the United States. This measure aims to assuage lawmakers and users who express concerns about the app’s data security practices.

Though it remains uncertain whether this relocation will meet those advocating for a TikTok ban. But it represents a positive step forward. It demonstrates TikTok’s commitment to addressing the concerns raised by its users.

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