A coalition of 18 states are asking a federal judge to uphold Montana's ban on TikTok, arguing that the prohibition will “protect Montanans’ privacy from a foreign power and their health from a potentially dangerous product.”
“The states’ police power has always included the power to protect their citizens from deceptive and harmful business practices,” officials from Virginia and other states argue in a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week with U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.
They claim TikTok “intentionally engages in deceptive business practices which induce individuals to share sensitive personal information that can be easily accessed by the Chinese Communist Party,” and that its platform “harms children in Montana” and other states.
The states are weighing in on the lawsuit brought by TikTok and several users who are seeking to block a law that will prohibit app stores from offering the app to people in Montana, and prohibit the use of the app in the state (with some exceptions for law enforcement). The measure doesn't penalize users, but provides for sanctions starting at $10,000 per violation against TikTok and mobile app marketplaces.
Unless enjoined, the law will come into effect on January 1 of next year.
Montana lawmakers who passed the bill expressed concerns that TikTok's parent company, the Beijing-based ByteDance, shares data about U.S. users with China. Similar concerns have spurred other states to prohibit use of the app on government-owned devices or public WiFi networks, but Montana is the only state so far to ban the app.
The Montana legislature also accused TikTok of failing to remove “dangerous content” that allegedly encourages young users to engage in risky activity, such as “inducing unconsciousness through oxygen deprivation,” and “cooking chicken in NyQuil.”
TikTok and several users say the law is unconstitutional, arguing that banning a communications platform violates the First Amendment. TikTok also says there is no evidence that its data practices are different from other social platforms'.
TikTok has drawn support from a broad array of organizations, including civil rights groups, tech industry associations, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The Reporters Committee said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed last month that TikTok is a critical tool for journalists, arguing that the app's short-form format “makes it a valuable source of firsthand recordings of breaking news events.”
Among other examples, the Reporters Committee noted that the March 3 New Yorkerarticle “Watching the World’s 'First TikTok War'” credited the app with offering some of the first videos of Russia's invasion of the Ukraine.
TikTok's supporters have also argued that much of the “dangerous” material on the app is available on other platforms.
Virginia and the other states counter that TikTok “poses a unique threat to consumers’ privacy and security,” given the app's connection to the Chinese Communist Party.
Molloy is expected to hold a hearing in the matter on October 12.