Making headlines earlier this month, Montana became the first state to ban social media platform TikTok.
Montana’s House of Representatives voted last month 54-43 to pass SB419, which will take effect in January. Governor Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law last week later tweeting “To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana.”
The bill also prohibits mobile application stores from offering TikTok within the state.
Chris Vaughan, VP, Technical Account Management at Tanium, commented that these bans boil down to whether there is enough separation between TikTok and the Chinese government, which is hard to determine. He also said that by accepting the TikTok terms and conditions, users authorize access to a lot of their data.
“There’s also a concern that TikTok, under the influence of the CCP, will tweak algorithms to display content designed to alter political opinions and deepen divisions in society,” Vaughan continued. “What’s interesting is that in the specific case of Montana, TikTok will be banned from appearing on app stores — but those with TikTok already installed are free to continue using it. This does pose the question of how effective the ban will be in defending against the concerns expressed by the state of Montana.”
Tiktok is owned by its Chinese parent company ByteDance. In a March hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said as a private company, ByteDance is not “owned or controlled by the Chinese government.”
The new law is the furthest restriction against the popular social media platform – which boasts more than 150 million American users. Earlier this year, North Carolina banned TikTok, and WeChat, from government devices due to privacy concerns. In February Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a statewide plan for banning the use of TikTok on government devices and in March the U.K. banned the service on government devices as well.
Craig Jones, Vice President of Security Operations at Ontinue, said wisely balancing freedom of expression and cybersecurity is a challenge that “defines our era.”
“Gov. Gianforte's decision to ban TikTok in Montana is undoubtedly sparking extensive discourse, as it seems to establish a delicate balancing act between cybersecurity and digital rights,” Jones said. “The attempt to insulate Montana from potential cybersecurity risks by addressing the alleged data sharing practices between ByteDance and the Chinese government stands as a significant move that could shape cyber policies across the country.”
Jones adds that the law is viewed by many as a potential risk to freedom of digital expression and user rights.
“With prominent entities like TikTok and the ACLU raising concerns about First Amendment rights, it's clear the issue is far from black and white,” Jones said. “The law's potential impact on individuals and businesses that rely on TikTok for various purposes — self-expression, information sourcing, or small business operations — cannot be overlooked.
“The ensuing legal battles are expected to be fierce, setting the stage for precedent-setting rulings on digital rights, internet regulation, and the operation of multinational tech companies,” Jones continued. “As such, this move in Montana will likely be a catalyst for broader discussions and legal debates that could redefine the future of the digital world.”
Craig Lurey, CTO and Co-Founder at Keeper Security, said cybersecurity threats have become a pervasive aspect of daily life and users can no longer trust that an app or website will keep their data safe.
“It’s imperative that everyone take proactive measures to protect themselves online through strong cyber hygiene,” Lurey said. “That means users should take extreme caution when downloading any app onto their devices. Malicious phone apps have the power to remotely access a device or harvest detailed, personal information about those who use them — oftentimes with the user's unknowing permission as they accept vague terms and conditions. There is also concern about who has access to this data, particularly when it's a nation state. The best way to defend against malicious apps is to remove them from your phone altogether.”