Montana took the unusual step on Wednesday (May 17) of banning Chinese-owned short video app TikTok, with lawmakers of the sparsely populated western US state saying they aimed to protect residents from alleged intelligence gathering by China.
TikTok, which is wildly popular with American teens and owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is already banned on government-issued devices in around 30 US states and for employees of the country’s federal agencies.
While blocking apps by geography is not unheard of, the Montana law is notable for doing so at the state level, upending a single-market approach Apple and Alphabet’s Google have long been able to use for their US app stores.
Montana’s ban is set to take effect on Jan 1, 2024.
HAS THIS EVER BEEN DONE BEFORE?
Tech companies are now well-practiced in blocking apps at the country level, mostly to comply with US sanctions or for business purposes, like Apple’s blocking of messaging and privacy apps in China upon government request.
Enterprising young people in affected countries have an equally long track record of skirting the bans by downloading the apps while traveling internationally or using tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), which obscure their location.
Within the United States, Pornhub recently disabled its services for IP addresses in Utah ahead of a state law that came into effect requiring adult content platforms to verify users’ ages. However, that involved a website only, not an app.
Specifically for apps, Google and Apple appear to have navigated a tangle of different US state rules around online gambling by leaving compliance to individual app developers, according to their app store guidance.
Google only started allowing gambling apps in its US app store as of 2021, prior to which it restricted the apps in all but four countries: Brazil, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Apple and Google declined to comment on how they approach state rules on gambling.