Gianforte Bans TikTok on State Devices Citing Data Security Concerns

Montana joined at least 13 other states in banning the video-sharing social media platform from government devices

By Nicole Girten, Daily Montanan
Gov. Greg Gianforte attends a law enforcement roundtable in Kalispell on Sept. 15, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gov. Greg Gianforte banned the app TikTok from being used on state devices, on state Wi-Fi or for government business in the state, according to a recent memo.

Montana joined at least 13 other states in banning the video-sharing social media platform from government devices, according to reporting from the New York Times. Gianforte cited security concerns around the app’s data collection by China-based parent company ByteDance  in a memo to Chief Information Officer Kevin Gilbertson on Friday.

“Use of TikTok on state devices poses a significant risk to the security of our state and Montanans’ sensitive data,” Gianforte wrote in the memo.

This decision also follows a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate to ban the app from being downloaded by federal employees on their work phones, States Newsroom reported Friday.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee last month about national security concerns the agency has about TikTok.

“They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users,” Wray told the committee, as reported by CNBC. “Or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”

Spokesperson for Gianforte Brooke Stroyke pointed to bipartisan calls for an investigation into the app as further rationale for the ban.

TikTok said it does not store U.S. user data in China, but rather in data centers in the U.S. and Singapore. In China the data may be vulnerable to seizure by the government.

Gianforte’s ban on TikTok means no executive agency, board, commission, or other executive branch entity, official, or state employees are permitted to download or access TikTok on government-issued devices or while connected to the state network. The ban also includes any third-party firms conducting business for or on behalf of the state.

The governor wrote that if TikTok is currently downloaded on any device, like a state-issued laptop, phone or tablet, it must be immediately removed.

Legislative Services Executive Director Jerry Howe said Tuesday that legislators have not been briefed on use of TikTok or been given direct communication about use of the app from the executive branch.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Kenneth Bogner, R- Miles City, said Tuesday that Gianforte’s decision to ban TikTok prevents China from spying on Americans and builds upon the strong privacy protections Montana has already.

“TikTok is used by a lot of younger Americans under 18, so we want to make sure that their data and their privacy is protected,” he said.

Bogner said he’s leaving it up to individual legislators to decide whether to have or use the app on their personal devices. He said he hopes they are aware of the risks.

Bogner said he had a bill draft request on the topic but that Gianforte’s order essentially did what he was looking to accomplish, so he likely won’t be bringing the legislation.

“But I know there’s a lot of legislation having to deal with China’s invasion of Montanans’ privacy, including a couple of my bills, so we will see it during this legislative session,” he said.

Bogner said it’s unclear how China would use the data — and that’s part of the problem — but he said the information could be used as propaganda or to target individuals.

Gianforte encouraged Montanans to stop using TikTok in order to protect their personal data, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.