Montana is on course to etch its name in the annals of US digital history as the first state to prohibit the use of the Chinese-owned social media powerhouse, TikTok, on personal devices.
Governor Greg Gianforte sealed the ban into law on Wednesday. The law, which is poised to be active from 1st of January, has drawn fierce criticism from the video-sharing platform, with the company asserting that the ban "infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana".
Global Concerns About TikTok's Data Handling
TikTok's global operations have increasingly faced critical examination from authorities worldwide due to mounting concerns that user data might be funneled to the Chinese government. These concerns have been the catalyst behind this new wave of legislation aimed at safeguarding data privacy.
Mr. Gianforte, a Republican, made it clear to lawmakers that a more extensive ban would significantly amplify "our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance."
TikTok's Stance on the Legislation
In an official statement, TikTok maintained that it has a substantial user base in Montana, comprising "hundreds of thousands of people". The social media giant assured its users in Montana that it would remain a platform for self-expression, community building, and even income generation while it relentlessly works to "defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana".
Considering the severity of the legislation, TikTok is anticipated to contest this law in the courts.
What This Legislation Means for Users and App Stores
The path to this ban was paved last month when Montana's lawmakers approved a bill with a vote of 54 to 43, prohibiting TikTok on personal devices.
While the law impedes app stores from offering TikTok, it does not restrict existing users from continuing their usage of the app. This decision follows Montana's earlier move in December to ban TikTok on government devices.
TikTok, popular among teenagers and users in their 20s, boasts an American user base of 150 million. Nevertheless, there is widespread concern among the US political landscape that TikTok might pose a national security risk.
Political Pressure and Consequences for ByteDance
ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, has consistently faced questioning over its data security practices and alleged ties to the Chinese government.
TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, was questioned by a congressional committee in March about the possibility of the Chinese government accessing user data or manipulating the content visible to American users. Although Mr. Shou categorically denied spying on Americans, he did confirm that employee access to TikTok accounts has been used to gather information about journalists.
This comes after an ultimatum issued by the US government in early March, suggesting that ByteDance either divest TikTok or face a potential nationwide ban.
Implications for Tech Giants
The enacted law stipulates penalties, not for individual users, but for corporations that fail to comply. Companies in breach of the law could be fined up to $10,000 (£8,012), with Montana's Department of Justice enforcing these penalties. This means that tech behemoths like Apple and Google could face monetary repercussions if they allow TikTok downloads from their app stores within Montana.
ByteDance, in response to these mounting pressures, has consistently refuted claims of being under the control of the Chinese government.
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