In addition to signing a bill into law that bans TikTok in the state of MontanaGovernor Greg Gianforte wants to ban other apps from foreign tech companies. Gianforte accused Telegram, WeChat, and Ago of being affiliated with “foreign adversaries” and wants the apps out of Montana.
Gianforte is also going after the other apps owned by TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. ByteDance owns CapCut, a popular video editing app, and social lifestyle app, Lemon8. Temu is owned by PDD Holdings, and WeChat is owned by Tencent. All of these apps trace back to China, which is Gianforte’s biggest gripe with the apps.
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Gianforte asserts that Telegram has ties to the Kremlin, but The Verge reported that Telegram is headquartered in Dubai and the legal body that controls it is in the British Virgin Islands. In addition, Temu is headquartered in Boston. Its parent company is headquartered in Ireland, along with many other tech companies — including American ones — that enjoy Ireland’s low corporate tax rates.
Gianforte demanded that no electronic device issued by the state of Montana download any aforementioned apps by June 1. In December, Congress passed the No TikTok on Government Devices act, forcing the removal of TikTok on all federal-issued government devices.
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Many American lawmakers have been wary of TikTok for years, worrying that the app collects too much American user data and shares the data with the Chinese government. But according to U.S. House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Congress has never been briefed on the matter.
But as surprising as Gianforte’s attack on the foreign apps he deems are connected to foreign adversaries might be to some, the same kind of ban is making its way through Congress. The Restrict Act would severely restrict apps connected to any country the U.S. government deems a threat to national security.
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Telegram, CapCut, Lemon8, TikTok, Temu, and WeChat, the targets of Gianforte’s bans, would be inaccessible nationwide should the Restrict Act pass through Congress and make it off President Biden’s desk.
But until the Restrict Act can be recognized legally at the federal level, Gianforte’s efforts to ban foreign apps across the state of Montana will likely be opposed on the grounds of unconstitutionality and censorship.
What about American social networking sites?
American lawmakers are also concerned the Chinese government could manipulate TikTok algorithms to influence electionsbut a fair share of political trolling happens on American social sites, too.
Amnesty International asserts that Meta ignored how Facebook was used in Myanmar to perpetuate a coup d’etat and genocide. It’s been researched and concluded that Twitter was a haven for Russian internet trolls to disseminate disinformation in an attempt to influence the 2020 presidential election.
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Academic studies have concluded that apps like TikTok only pose a real threat to national security if there are users on the app who expose government secrets, like the Air Nationals Guardsman who leaked classified documents on Reddit.
It’s fair that Americans are concerned about how their data could be used on social networking sites owned by foreign companies. But it’s imperative to be careful when using any social networking site no matter where the company originates. You can exercise caution by reading a site’s privacy or data policy, understanding app permissions before accepting them, and downloading copies of your data.
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The U.S. does not have many well-integrated laws that protect user privacy online, which makes the attempts to ban entire apps due to privacy concerns a sticky situation. So, for now, it’s up to users to decide what kind and how much of their data they want floating around online.