Montana is on TikTok It’s a technological nightmare. Experts warn that it will be incredibly difficult for officials to enforce and incredibly easy for almost anyone to manage. But more than that, it’s a move that undermines America’s history of fostering an open and democratic Internet.
He law, which will take effect in early 2024, will block TikTok from mobile app stores in Montana and also ban TikTok from operating in the state. It’s a move that brings with it a host of First Amendment concerns, and it may never get enacted if legal challenges block it. But if it goes ahead, experts warn it’s likely to be a disaster.
“From a technical perspective, even if it was a national law, there would be challenges in trying to make this work,” says John Morris, director of US Internet policy and advocacy at the Internet Society, a nonprofit organization. for-profit that promotes an open Internet. But because people can use VPNs to change their browsing location, it’s even more difficult to ensure that a local ban will work. “State lines are not something that is built into the Internet.”
The new law is the first on the books after years of anxiety in the US surrounding TikTok as a national security risk. That perceived threat looms because TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is Chinese-owned. TikTok has also become one of the most popular apps in the world, with 150 million US users only.
Montana law requires mobile app stores to be assessed $10,000 fines when they allow people to download or use TikTok. TikTok could also be fined for operating in the state. The fines would not apply to people who download the app.
Historically, the United States has advocated for an open Internet and has criticized countries that censor online access. China succeeds in its mass censorship thanks to its Great Firewall, a system unlike anything in the US that Montana was unable to build itself. Other countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, they banned TikTok and later rescinded the blocks. India’s TikTok ban, introduced in June 2020, is still in effect. Montana, along with other states, and the US federal government have blocked TikTok from government devices, but geo-blocking specific regions within the US would prove much more difficult.
An earlier version of the Montana bill would have forced internet service providers to block TikTok in the state. But the ISPs said it would be impossible to do so and the requirement was dropped. Mobile app providers such as Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment. And while Montana has now passed the law banning TikTok, it remains to be seen how it plans to do so.
Montana officials have suggested that technology that restricts online sports betting, which remains illegal in more than a dozen US states, could be used to push TikTok outside its borders. If someone reports a violation, officials will investigate it, and if a violation is verified, cease and desist letters will be sent to businesses, the state attorney general’s office told Associated Press.