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Blocking TikTok is easier said than done

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Blocking TikTok is easier said than done

robort - 2023-05-23 02:14:17

In the US, Montana became the first state to legally ban TikTok . However, the blockade risks becoming a technological nightmare, with experts warning that it will be extremely difficult to enforce and very easy to circumvent. Most importantly, however, the state's decision undermines America's historic support for an open and democratic internet.

The law, which goes into effect in early 2024, will ban TikTok on Montana app stores and prevent the company from operating in the state. The law involves a series of problems related to the First Amendment of the American Constitution - the one that sanctions, among other things, freedom of speech - and it could also never enter into force if judicial appeals against the law were successful. But if it does materialize, experts warn the ban is likely to be a botch.

" Technically speaking, even if it were a national law, there would be challenges in trying to make it work," says John Morris, US internet policy and advocacy manager at organization no. -profit Internet Society. And considering then that it would be enough for a user to use a VPN to change their location, ensuring that a local ban works is even more difficult: " State borders are not integrated into the built in internet, "adds Morris.

Montana's move comes after years of anxiety in the United States about whether TikTok poses a national security risk. American fears are related to the fact that the company that controls the social network, ByteDance, is Chinese.

Meanwhile, TikTok has also become one of the most popular apps in the world, with 150 million users in the US alone.

Montana law provides $10,000 fines for app stores that allow you to download or use TikTok and fines the company if it continues to operate in the state (so people who download the app would not be fined).

Traditionally, the United States has championed an open internet, criticizing countries that restrict online access. China has managed to successfully impose mass censorship on the web thanks to its Great Firewall, a system that however does not exist in the United States and that Montana could not have built on its own. Other governments, including Indonesian and Pakistani, have banned TikTok before lifting the blocks. The stop to the platform in India, introduced in June 2020, is still in effect. While in the US the federal government and several states, including Montana itself, have banned the use of TikTok on government devices, geoblocking from specific regions within the country would prove much more difficult.

An earlier version of the Montana bill would have required ISPs to block TikTok in the state, a provision that was removed after ISPs pointed out it was unworkable. Companies that provide mobile applications such as Apple and Google did not respond to Wired US requests for comment.

From theory to practice

Despite the passage of the new law, it remains to be seen how Montana intends to enforce the ban on TikTok. Some state officials have suggested using technology to restrict online gambling, which remains illegal in more than a dozen US states. The Montana attorney general's office told the Associated Press that if a violation were reported, an investigation would be triggered, officials would investigate, and if the violation was found, the companies involved would receive a warning.

Furthermore, blocks like the one in Montana are routinely circumvented thanks to VPNs. However, virtual private networks can have security problems, and in some cases they also retain user data, which can then be consulted by law enforcement with a warrant.

However, TikTok would have no way of finding out if users are using an internal VPN to access the platform from Montana, something that makes the new law " very difficult to enforce," says Kevin Du, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California. Syracuse University.

In response to the announced ban in Montana, TikTok said it would " continue to work to defend the rights " of users in and outside Montana, calling the block illegitimate. The law has also been criticized by the civil rights organization American Civil Liberties Union, according to which the measure violates " the rights of free speech under the guise of national security and sets the stage for excessive government control of the internet ". Several TikTok creators have already sued the state.

While Montana accounts for a tiny fraction of global TikTok users, the ban could affect other US states if confirmed. However, a stop at the national level remains complex and unlikely.

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Robort Gabriel

Lagos, Nigeria

Freelance Web Developer, Native Android Developer, and Coding Tutor.

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