Science

Montana may soon make it illegal to use TikTok in the state

Montana is one step away from instituting a state-wide wholesale ban of TikTok. On Friday, the state’s House of Representatives voted 54-43 in favor of passing SB419, which would blacklist the immensely popular social media platform from operating within the “territorial jurisdiction of Montana,”  as well as prohibit app stores from offering it to users. The legislation now heads to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to go into effect without issuing an explicit decision.

Although a spokesperson only said that Gov. Gianforte would “carefully consider any bill the Legislature sends to his desk,” previous statements and actions indicate a sign-off is likely. Gianforte banned TikTok on all government devices last year after describing the platform as a “significant risk” for data security.

TikTok is owned by the China-based company, ByteDance, and faces intense scrutiny from critics on both sides of the political aisle over concerns regarding users’ privacy. Many opponents of the app also claim it subjects Americans to undue influence and propaganda from the Chinese government. Speaking with local news outlet KTVH last week, Montana state Sen. Shelley Vance alleged that “we know that beyond a doubt that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is operating as a surveillance arm of the Chinese Communist Party and gathers information about Americans against their will.”

As Gizmodo also notes, however, there is still no definitive proof TikTok or ByteDance is surveilling US users, although company employees do have standard access to user data. Regardless, many privacy advocates and experts warn that the continued focus on TikTok ignores the much larger and more pervasive data privacy issues affecting Americans. The RESTRICT Act, for example, is the most notable federal effort to institute a wholesale blacklisting of TikTok, but critics have voiced numerous worries regarding its expansive language, ill-defined enforcement, and unintended consequences. The bill’s ultimate fate still remains unclear.

If Montana’s SB419 ultimately moves forward, it will go into effect on January 1, 2024. The bill proposes a $10,000 per day fine on any app store, or TikTok itself, if it continues to remain available within the state afterwards. The proposed law does not include any penalties on individual users.

In a statement reported by The New York Times, a TikTok spokesperson said the company “will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”

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