Montana: First US state to ban TikTok

Montana is the first US state with a TikTok ban. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a corresponding law on Wednesday, which should come into force in 2024.

He wanted to protect the “personal and private data of the people of Montana from the Chinese Communist Party,” Gianforte said on Twitter. The state has a little more than a million inhabitants.

According to the law, TikTok cannot be used in Montana. Any time a user accesses TikTok, is offered access to TikTok, or is offered the opportunity to download, it is a violation of the law. Each violation carries a fine of $10,000 per day. As a result, Apple and Google must remove TikTok from their app stores.

The law, which was passed by the Montana state legislature in mid-April, will almost certainly be challenged in court. State leaders are “trampling in the name of anti-China sentiment” on the freedom of expression of hundreds of thousands of people in Montana “who use the app to speak out, gather information and conduct small businesses,” said Keegan Medrano of the civil rights organization ACLU in Montana.

“Unlawful Ban”

A TikTok company spokeswoman said the law signed by the governor violates the rights of the people of Montana by an “unlawful ban.” The app operated by the Chinese group ByteDance is suspected of giving the Chinese Communist Party access to user data. Most recently, several western states had banned public sector employees from using TikTok on company cell phones.

With more than a billion users worldwide, TikTok is particularly popular with the younger generation. The short video service has already overtaken other networks like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook in terms of time spent on them.

However, experts warn that the app could be used by the Chinese Communist Party for espionage or propaganda purposes. The Chinese government has denied urging Chinese companies to hand over personal user data collected abroad.

Chinese company based on the American model

While TikTok is the only non-US online platform with a global reach, its development is closely intertwined with that of other Western tech companies. ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming showed a preference for the West in both political and cultural terms and campaigned against Chinese censorship on the Internet, visited Silicon Valley and consulted with American investors, among other things. In 2017, he acquired Chinese lipsync platform, which was already popular in the US and eventually became TikTok.

When Zhang founded ByteDance in 2012, Xi Jinping was not yet in power, and one could still imagine the country moving on a path toward more reform and openness, according to The New York Times (“NYT”). But under Xi, that hope was nipped in the bud. TikTok itself isn’t available in China – users there have to access another ByteDance app, which follows Chinese government guidelines on censorship and propaganda.

Not listed on the stock exchange

The TikTok parent company ByteDance is not listed on the stock exchange and does not have to publish any business figures. However, its revenues increased by more than 30 percent to over 80 billion dollars (around 74 billion euros) in 2022, the website The Information and the financial service Bloomberg wrote, citing ByteDance investors.

Exactly how much TikTok contributed to group sales remained unclear. It is likely to remain a small proportion, while the bulk of the business is generated in the home market. ByteDance operates the separate Chinese TikTok variant Douyin there. The Information pointed out that TikTok predicted ad revenue of around $10 billion for the year in November, two and a half times what it will be in 2021.

TikTok emphasizes that it does not see itself as a subsidiary of a Chinese group, since ByteDance is 60 percent owned by western investors and the official company headquarters are on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders held 20 percent of the control thanks to higher voting rights and that ByteDance has a large headquarters in Beijing.

Montana is banning TikTok, but how does the state plan to enforce it?

TikTok users sue Montana ban

From 2024, TikTok will be banned in the US state of Montana. Five users are now fighting back and filing a lawsuit. They get support from China.

After the Chinese short video app TikTok was banned in the US state of Montana, a group of TikTok users have now filed a lawsuit against the new law. As the five users explained in the lawsuit filed late Wednesday evening in the US District Court of Montana, the ban violated their rights as citizens. In addition, the state would behave as if it were allowed to make national security decisions, which it was not.

With the lawsuit they want to prevent the ban, which the governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, signed on Wednesday. Under the new law, Google and Apple app stores are prohibited from offering TikTok within state lines.

If the app stores or TikTok violate this rule, they face fines for each violation, plus additional fines of $10,000 per day. Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has not yet commented on the lawsuit.

“Chinese Communist Party Surveillance”

According to Governor Gianforte, the ban is intended to protect the citizens of Montana “from surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party” and will come into force on January 1, 2024. Montana is the first state in the USA to ban the social media platform, which is particularly popular with young people, because of possible influence from the Chinese government.

TikTok is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance. The Montana ban commented on the platform as a violation of civil rights. We will continue to work to defend user rights inside and outside of Montana. The company has repeatedly denied ever sharing data with the Chinese government.

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