Montana legislators approved a bill on Friday that would ban TikTok from being offered in the state in a 54-43 vote. The bill, SB 419, now goes to Montana Republican Governor Greg Gianforte for approval.
TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, is likely to take action to prevent the bill from becoming law. If implemented, it would be the first statewide ban of its kind.
Beyond Montana, federal lawmakers have for months been pushing an act that would ban TikTok across the country if ByteDance won’t sell its stake in the viral video app. That threat presents severe potential challenges to TokTok, and the company has invested millions of dollars into combating the effort.
The Montana bill cited likely Chinese surveillance and the potential theft of state intellectual property as some of the impetus behind the ban. Should a law be enacted, mobile app store providers like Apple and Google would be required to disable Tiktok downloads from within Montana, and TikTok would be prohibited from offering the platform to state residents.
The ban would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
“TikTok’s stealing of information and data from users and its ability to share that data with the Chinese Communist Party unacceptably infringes on Montana’s right to privacy,” the bill reads. Montana is one of the least-populated states in the U.S., with just over 1 million residents as of the 2020 census.
Gianforte knows the tech industry well. Prior to public office, he ran RightNow Technologies, a software company he founded in 1997. Oracle acquired RightNow in 2012 for $1.5 billion. As of 2018, Gianforte had an estimated net worth of over $189 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.
In 2020, Oracle agreed to provide backend technology to TikTok as part of an arrangement to keep the app, at the time, from being banned by the U.S. government. Oracle is currently the cloud hosting service for all of TikTok usage in the U.S.
Customers in Montana won’t be fined if they fail to abide by the ban or evade it. But companies, including TikTok, face a $10,000 fine per violation if they’re found to have skirted the ban.
State Sen. Shelley Vance, a Republican, sponsored the bill. Vance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
TikTok said it opposes the bill, adding that there’s no clear path for the Montana government to enforce it or punish violators.
“The bill’s champions have admitted that they have no feasible plan for operationalizing this attempt to censor American voices and that the bill’s constitutionality will be decided by the courts,” TikTok said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for TikTok users and creators in Montana whose livelihoods and First Amendment rights are threatened by this egregious government overreach.”