WASHINGTON: Montana Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday signed legislation to ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the state to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China, making it the first US state to ban the popular short video app.
Montana will make it unlawful for Google and Apple’s app stores to offer TikTok within the state, but will not impose any penalties on individuals using the app. The ban is to take effect Jan 1, 2024, and is almost certain to face legal challenges.
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, did not respond to a Reuters question asking if it planned legal action.
Earlier, TikTok issued a statement saying that the new law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok”, and said it will “continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana”.
TikTok, which has more than 150 million American users, has faced growing calls from US lawmakers and state officials to ban the app nationwide over concerns about potential Chinese government influence over the platform.
The app has become wildly popular with teens. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 per cent of US teens ages 13 to 17 use TikTok, and 16 per cent of all teens say they use the app almost constantly. TikTok has said that the “vast majority” of its users are over the age of 18.
In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi about whether the Chinese government could access user data or influence what Americans see on the app. But calls to ban TikTok nationwide or give the Biden administration new powers to crack down or ban TikTok have not advanced in Congress.
Gianforte, a Republican, said the bill will further “our shared priority to protect Montanans from Chinese Communist Party surveillance”.
TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has ever shared data with the Chinese government and has said the company would not do so if asked.
FREE SPEECH “TRAMPLED”
Montana, which has a population of just more than 1 million people, said TikTok could face fines for each violation and additional fines of US$10,000 per day if it violates the ban.
The short video app can be downloaded in app stores on Apple Inc and Google devices. Apple and Google, a unit of Alphabet, could also face fines of US$10,000 per violation, per day if they violate the ban.