In response to Montana's recent ban on the popular video app, TikTok is suing back. On Monday, TikTok recorded to lawfully challenge the boycott in US area court.
By signing Senate Bill 419 on May 17, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte made his state the first in the nation to ban TikTok due to concerns about its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.
Gianforte stated in a press release announcing the ban, "The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented." To protect Montanans' private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state today."
In the United States, TikTok claims to have more than 150 million monthly active users. In addition, a Pew study conducted in 2022 found that 16% of all teens use the app almost "constantly," and 67% of US teens aged 13 to 17 reported using it. Therefore, does Montana, the eighth-smallest state in terms of population in the United States, really intend to prohibit its slightly more than 1 million users from using the app? It's convoluted.
What does TikTok say in its legal complaint?
According to TikTok's statement, the company has a number of reasons why it believes the ban is illegal. The company starts by citing the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from restricting free speech.
The organization says the Montana regulation is "illegally closing down the gathering for discourse for all speakers on the application and singling these speakers out for disfavored treatment with the substance put together reasoning that recordings with respect to TikTok are hurtful to minors."
Additionally, TikTok asserts that the claims that the Chinese government is making use of US user data involve foreign affairs and national security and should be addressed at the federal level, not the state level. It argues that TikTok is unfairly targeted for severe penalties due to speculation regarding its data security and content moderation, and that the state-specific ban on its national platform threatens to disrupt the flow of travel and commerce between states.
"invalidating and preliminarily and permanently enjoining Defendant from enforcing the TikTok Ban," TikTok is asking for a declaratory judgment and order.
A request for clarification regarding the lawsuit was not immediately answered by a representative for the governor of Montana.
Is banning TikTok really going to protect data privacy?
In a Twitter thread, the nonprofit digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation referred to the ban as "unconstitutional."
Additionally, a March article on the EFF website noted that TikTok is an exception due to China's surveillance and censorship practices, but that nearly all social media platforms and online businesses collect a significant amount of personal data from users.
"In any case, the best answer for these issues isn't to single out one business or country for a boycott," the EFF composed. " Instead, comprehensive consumer data privacy legislation must be enacted. We will reduce the opportunities for all governments, including China, to buy or steal this data by reducing the enormous stores of personal data that are collected by all businesses, including TikTok.
In a phone interview with CNET, the acting director of activism for the EFF, Jason Kelley, stated that the ban is against the First Amendment, will not safeguard data privacy, and will place an "enormous burden" on Montana in its efforts to enforce the law. However, he believes that's not the point.
He stated, "It's not a law intended to be implemented." It will be litigated in court and waste a lot of taxpayer money."
Why is Montana banning TikTok?
TikTok's parent organization, ByteDance, is settled in Beijing. If the company is forced to share US user data with the Chinese government, some worry that the app's data could be accessed by the Chinese Communist Party and pose a threat to the United States' national security.
In November, FBI Chief Christopher Wray said the application could be utilized to "control information assortment on huge number of clients, or control the proposal calculation, which could be utilized [to] impact activities in the event that they so decide, or to control programming on great many gadgets." The application was described as a "sophisticated surveillance tool" by FCC Commissioner Brian Carr last year.
If the US government sells TikTok to a company that isn't based in "any country designated as a foreign adversary," the ban won't apply.
Although Montana's restriction is the first of its kind, lawmakers in the United States also restricted the app from government devices in December.
What does TikTok have to say about the China charges?
TikTok has denied providing the Chinese government with information.
"There is no reality to the [Montana] lead representative's case that TikTok is related with the Chinese government," a delegate for TikTok said in its most memorable proclamation after the boycott was declared. " ByteDance and TikTok are neither under the direct nor indirect control of the Chinese Communist Party. ByteDance is a private, global company that is owned by approximately 60% global institutional investors, 20% by the company's founders, and 20% by employees, which includes thousands of Americans.
In March, Shou Chew, the CEO of TikTok, testified before Congress. He said TikTok has been dealing with a drive called Venture Texas, which he said would make "a firewall that seals off safeguarded US client information from unapproved unfamiliar access," and incorporate oversight by a US organization.
What does the Montana TikTok ban involve?
The Montana police aren't going to break down citizens' doors and stop Billings or Butte teens from uploading or watching quirky dances or funny cat videos. Instead of going after individual users, the state's attempting to prohibit mobile application stores from offering TikTok within the state.
So while the law does technically prohibit downloads of TikTok, it doesn't mention fining regular citizens, just TikTok itself or whichever app store, Apple for iOS devices or Google for Android devices, allows Montanans access to it. The proposed fines are hefty -- $10,000 per day for each time someone accesses TikTok, "is offered the ability" to access it, or downloads it. Again, those fines wouldn't apply to the users, but the companies that allow them to get TikTok.
However, the bill also includes even stricter rules for state employees using government devices. It says that "effective June 1, no executive agency, board, commission, or other executive branch entity, official, or employee of the State of Montana shall download or access social media applications that provide personal information or data to foreign adversaries on government-issued devices or while connected to the state network." And third-party firms conducting business for, or on behalf of, Montana are now prohibited "from using applications with ties to foreign adversaries."
How will Montana enforce the TikTok ban?
This is unclear. The prohibitions on state employees and agencies kicks in June 1, but the main part of the ban won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2024. That gives the state some time to figure things out, and in the meantime, there will surely be lawsuits, likely from TikTok itself, and perhaps entities such as the ACLU.
But as far as enforcement itself, there are some idea. The Associated Press reports that Montana's attorney general has suggested the technology used to restrict online gambling apps could be used. Violations can be reported by anyone, and the state then sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company.