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TikTok on the American flag (symbolic image): There is a lot of debate about the correct use of the popular video app

Photo: Dado Ruvic / REUTERS

The first general ban on the popular video app TikTok in a US state has been put on hold by a court until further notice. Federal Judge Donald Molloy found that an injunction against the corresponding law of the state of Montana was justified. The law, which was passed in May, most likely violates the U.S. Constitution, he said on Thursday.

This means that the law cannot enter into force until a decision is made on the complaints against it. The bill, signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte, was intended to prohibit platforms such as app stores from offering the app for download from Jan. 1. Companies such as Apple, Google and TikTok themselves would have been threatened with fines for offering the app from the new year. For users, however, a download would have had no consequences. The reason given was that this was to protect the personal data of Montana residents from the Chinese Communist Party. TikTok is a product of the Chinese company ByteDance.

TikTok users and the company itself had gone to court against the law. Among other things, critics accuse the supporters of the ban of going too far and that their plan is primarily symbolic politics rather than a serious attempt to protect data. Judge Donald Molloy sees a high probability that opponents of the move will ultimately prevail, arguing that a ban on the app violates the right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. A few years ago, a lawsuit against TikTok by then-US President Donald Trump failed on similar grounds. According to Molloy, he was also not presented with any evidence that TikTok really does share data of Montana residents with the Communist Party.

In the West, the most successful app from a Chinese company

TikTok is the only online platform that is also successful in the West and does not originate from the USA. Especially in the USA, but also in Europe, there is concern that information about users could end up with Chinese authorities via the app, for example in the course of data queries. Governments of several countries as well as the EU Commission have already banned the use of TikTok on company mobile phones. In the U.S., TikTok is now banned in more than half of U.S. states on government smartphones.

TikTok always rejects such concerns and emphasizes that it does not see itself as a subsidiary of a Chinese company. ByteDance is 60 percent owned by Western investors. The company is headquartered in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders hold control of a 20 percent stake thanks to higher voting rights and that ByteDance has a large headquarters in Beijing.