Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed a law on Wednesday making it illegal for the popular video-sharing app TikTok to operate within the state. The ban, set to take effect from January 1, 2024, will prohibit the use and download of the app across the state.
This action not only impacts the 200,000 users and 6,000 businesses that rely on the platform in Montana but also lays the groundwork for a potential legal clash with the app’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance.
Governor Gianforte and the ban’s legislative sponsors of this new legislation argue that TikTok presents a risk to national security due to Chinese laws obligating companies to collaborate with state intelligence efforts, raising fears about potential data harvesting from U.S. users and the spread of Beijing-approved misinformation.
Despite TikTok’s assertions of never having been asked to surrender its data, critics cite laws implemented in China in 2014 and 2017 that demand such cooperation.
How The Ban Will Work
So, how does Montana intend to implement this ban? The law stipulates that it will be illegal to download TikTok within the state, and any entity facilitating access to the app, be it the app store or TikTok itself, could face a fine of $10,000 per day for each infraction.
The legislation holds Apple and Google, which operate the app stores on iOS and Android, respectively, accountable for any violations, but penalties would not be applied to users.
The law spares internet service providers from responsibility, a decision made after an AT&T lobbyist argued to the Legislature that blocking TikTok at the ISP level was “not feasible.”
Therefore, the enforcement responsibility primarily falls on Apple, Google, and ByteDance, putting these tech giants under significant pressure to comply with this novel legislation.
The Impact Of VPNs On Geographical Restrictions For Apps Like Tiktok
Critics of the law, including TikTok and free speech advocates, consider it a blatant violation of First Amendment rights.
However, cybersecurity professionals have expressed doubts about the efficacy of the TikTok ban in Montana, as reported by The Associated Press.
These experts noted that the tools that app stores and apps like TikTok can use to enforce geographical limitations are cumbersome, error-prone, and could be readily circumvented with the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which could potentially bypass the statewide restrictions. This service can disguise IP addresses, enabling users to prevent content restrictions, thereby making the enforcement of such a law challenging.
Legal Battles Ahead And Implications For Users
The ban will be nullified if TikTok is sold to a company that isn’t based in a country deemed a “foreign adversary” by the U.S. federal government. Governor Gianforte has also expressed a desire to extend this legislation to other social media apps, though he faced roadblocks in achieving this prior to the legislative assembly adjournment.
As of now, the app remains available for download in the App Store and Google Play Store for Montana residents. However, should enforcement commence, the burden of compliance will rest with the companies to prevent their apps from operating within Montana.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, one of the architects of the TikTok ban, referred to the geofencing technology employed to block online sports gambling in states where it is prohibited.
However, Kyler Nerison, a spokesperson for Attorney General Knudsen, clarified that the choice of the specific tool to be used by each company rests with them, emphasizing that it is their responsibility “to not allow their apps to work in Montana and other states where they are not legal.”
Contrary to the expectations of the Montana legislation, the TechNet trade group, representing companies such as Apple and Google, has asserted that app stores do not possess the capability to implement geofencing measures to restrict app access in specific states or prevent downloads in Montana.
In the coming months, this novel legislation could provoke a significant legal standoff. The attorney general of Montana has already indicated an expectation of this law being contested in court.
Whether or not the app will be removed from the App Store and Google Play Store in Montana is yet to be seen.
However, users should remain aware that attempting to bypass such regulations through VPN usage could have its own implications and legal risks.