NEW YORK (AP) — TikTok is challenging Montana in the first of its kind A law that makes it illegal for people to use social media apps in the state. This is the second lawsuit since the ban was granted.
Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the law Wednesday, anticipating a legal battle. The law, which is due to take effect on January 1, 2024, also faces questions about whether it can be enforced.
Five TikTok users sued the state last week saying the law is unconstitutional. TikTok made similar arguments in a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Missoula.
Montana’s rules are more far-reaching than restrictions on TikTok elsewhere, including bans on government-issued devices in nearly half the states and the US federal government.
In Montana, there are 200,000 TikTok users and 6,000 businesses using the video-sharing platform, according to company spokesman Jamal Brown.
Here’s what you need to know:
Why does Montana ban TIKTOK?
Proponents of the law in Montana say the Chinese government could extract US user data from TikTok and use the platform to send propaganda or messages to the public.
It echoes arguments from a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the US Senate, as well as the heads of the FBI and CIA, who have all said TikTok could be a national security threat because of its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance. Operates under Chinese law.
Critics have pointed to China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which forces companies to cooperate with national governments for state intelligence work. Another Chinese law implemented in 2014 has a similar mandate.
TikTok says it has never been asked to hand over its data and will not do so if asked.
What is TikTok arguing in the legal challenge?
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, filed a lawsuit on Monday saying the new law violates the constitutional right to free speech. It says the law is based on the unfounded assumption that the Chinese government can access user data.
“The state offers nothing to support these allegations,” the company’s attorneys wrote. “The bare government speculation ignores the reality that (TikTok) has not and will not share US user data with the Chinese government.”
Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, said legal challenges are expected. He said the Chinese Communist Party was using TikTok as a tool to spy on Americans by “collecting personal information, keystrokes and even the locations of its users.”
The case could become the testing ground for a TikTok-free America that many national lawmakers have envisioned.
How Montana plans to ban TikTok?
The law would ban TikTok downloads in the state and would fine any “entity” — the app store or TikTok — $10,000 a day for every time someone accesses, downloads or offers access to TikTok.
This means that Apple and Google, which operate the app stores on Apple and Android devices, will be liable for violations. Penalties do not apply to users.
The nationwide ban would be void if the social media platform is sold to a company that is not based in a country designated as a foreign adversary.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has pointed to technology used to restrict online sports gambling apps as a way to limit TikTok’s operations in the state. Anyone can report these violations. And once the state confirms a violation has occurred, it sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company involved, said Kyler Nerison, a spokeswoman for Knudsen’s office.
So can banning TIKTOK work?
Cyber security experts say that short of avoiding fines, there is little incentive for companies to comply, and that the law will be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to enforce adequately.
The United States does not have the kind of control that China does about what their citizens access on the Internet. In addition, Internet service providers are not in the picture.
Before Montana’s law passed, lawmakers rewrote parts of the bill to keep them from being removed after an AT&T lobbyist said during a February hearing that the legislation was “impossible” to pass.
Can tech companies block it?
A spokesman for TechNet, a trade group that counts the two tech giants as members, said app stores don’t have the ability to “geofen” apps in different states, and it would be impossible to prevent TikTok downloads in Montana. The group said the onus should be on the app to determine where it can run, not the app store.
Telecom analyst Roger Entner, of Recon Analytics, said he believes app stores have the ability to enforce the law, but implementing it will be difficult and fraught with loopholes. Address-related billing from Apple and Google can be bypassed with prepaid cards and IP geolocation, using an easily disguised VPN service that can change IP addresses and allow users to bypass content restrictions, said mobile security expert Will Strafach of the Guardian Founder. Creates a privacy protection app for Apple devices.
Oded Vanunu, head of product vulnerability research at cybersecurity firm Check Point, agrees that it will be difficult for app stores to isolate a single state from app downloads. He suggested that it would be more appropriate for TikTok to comply because it controls the software and can “adjust settings based on users’ geographic locations or IP addresses.”
CAN TIKTOK BLOCK ITSELF?
When users allow TikTok to collect their location information, it can track a person at least 3 square kilometers (1.16 square miles) from their actual location. If this feature is turned off, TikTok may still collect approximate location information—such as the region, city, or zip code a user may be in—based on device or network information such as IP address.
But like app stores, cybersecurity experts point out that any enforcement measures a company puts in place can be easily bypassed with a VPN, and attempts to use IP geolocation can lead to other problems.
David Chofness with Northeastern University’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute said mobile providers may use the same type of IP addresses for multiple states, which could mean someone not in Montana could be wrongly blocked from TikTok.
AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Boston.
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