Montana has become the first US state to ban TikTok outright, as lawmakers take a firm stand against the app's alleged ties with the Chinese Communist Party.
The proposed ban will take effect from January 1 2024, and major app stores such as the App Store and Google Play will be slapped with a daily fine of $10,000 if they continue to host the video-sharing platform after this date.
TikTok, which currently has 150 million American users, calls this ban ‘unlawful'. But as the Beijing-based app comes under increasing scrutiny from US lawmakers for leaking information to the Chinese state, this state ban could likely set a precedent throughout the rest of the country.
Montana Becomes the First US State to Ban TikTok
If you're a resident of Montana, it looks like your days scrolling TikTok may be numbered, with the Western state officially becoming the first US territory to ban the app for its residents.
The bill is due to come into effect from January 1 of next year, and will prohibit app marketplaces from allowing the app to be downloaded. The App Store and Google Play will be subject to a daily fee of $100,000 if they don't comply, although no penalties will be passed down to its users.
The law was signed by Governor Greg Gianfore on Wednesday, who says the ban was put in place to “protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Community Party (CCP)”.
While this is the first time the popular video app has been outlawed for regular American users, TikTok has already been banned on government devices in over 25 states including Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
But TikTok isn't the only app that will become off-limits to government workers. Montana Governor, Gren Gianfore, announced he would be banning all social media apps linked to “foreign adversaries” on state equipment from June 1, including Chinese-owned WeChat, and Russian-owned Telegram.
Concerns over TikTok's information practices are nothing new — with the ByteDance-owned app facing scrutiny since it was first launched on US soil in 2016. However, prohibiting its use for regular citizens definitely a gutsy move from lawmakers. So, how did we get here?
Accusations Over TikTok's Ties to China Heat Up
To say TikTok time in the US has been rocky would be an understatement. In June last year, news broke that the video app was using “aggressive” tactics to collect ‘excessive' amounts of user data, and the platform has repeatedly been accused of sharing personal information with the CCP via its founding company ByteDance.
While these concerns never faded away, a recent complaint from Yintao “Roger” Yu — the ex-head of engineering for US operations at Bytedance — has fanned the flames once more. In a lawsuit that takes aim at the company for his wrongful termination, Yu claims that the CCP has ‘supreme access' to TikTok data, including on US servers.
‘The Committee maintained supreme access to all the company data, even data stored in the United States.' – Yintao Yu, ex-ByteDance employee
Yu also claims that Bytedance has been used as a ‘useful propaganda tool' for the CPP, and said the party had a special office called the ‘Committee' where they would guide Bytedance in how it advanced ‘Communist values'.
Yu's allegations are pretty damning, and provide the US government with even more ammo for banning the app outright. But how have ByteDance and TikTok responded to these claims and legislative crackdowns?
TikTok Calls Montana's Ban ‘Unlawful'
When speaking to CNN, a Bytedance spokesperson said they “vigorously” oppose Yu's claims, attesting that the ex-employee worked on an app called Flipagram which was discontinued because of business reasons.
They also told the outlet that Bytdance is ‘committed to respecting the intellectual property of other companies', with regard to their acquisition of TikTok data.
TikTok isn't happy about its proposed ban in Montana, either. A spokesperson for the company, Brook Oberwetter, called the bill “unlawful”, claiming it goes against Americans' first amendment rights.
‘We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.' – Brooke Oberwetter, TikTok Spokesperson
She also reassured Montanans that they can continue using the app for the time being. However, with the bill coming into effect soon, and other states considering similar actions, it's seems that TikTok days in the US may well be limited.