On Wednesday, Montana governor Greg Gianforte didn’t only ban TikTok state-wide. He also accused Telegram, WeChat, and the shopping app Temu of being “tied to foreign adversaries” and directed that they and similar apps be banned from government devices and all state business. Gianforte also cited TikTok owner ByteDance’s CapCut video editor and Lemon8 as examples of offending apps.
With this ban, Gianforte largely seems to be targeting apps with ties to China, given that ByteDance, Temu owner Pinduoduo, and WeChat owner Tencent are all based in the country.
Telegram is the exception: Gianforte’s letter claims that the app was founded in Russia and that the Russian government uses the app to “monitor users and obtain personal, sensitive, confidential information,” perhaps referencing Wired’s February report. However, Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn tells The Verge that “the legal entity controlling Telegram at launch was located in the British Virgin Islands.” Telegram is currently headquartered in Dubai. Vaughn also said that “Telegram has never provided user data to the Russian government” and that the app’s messages are “securely encrypted and cannot be intercepted.”
Montana’s new policy will be in effect on June 1st. The list of devices that can’t have the apps includes “all state-issued cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and other devices which connect to the internet.” And the ban won’t just apply to government employees: Gianforte says that “any third-party firms conducting business for or on behalf of the State of Montana shall not use these applications.”
Gianforte had already blocked TikTok on government devices or devices connected to the state network as of December, so this expands that policy to a suite of other major apps. WeChat and Telegram Messenger are widely-used for chats, for example, and shopping app Temu is currently the most popular free app in the US in the App Store and Google Play. If the offending apps are currently downloaded on any devices, Gianforte has instructed them to be “immediately removed.”
Despite Gianforte’s claims it’s “well-documented” that TikTok provides personal information and data to the Chinese Communist Party, it’s unclear if owner ByteDance actually relays that data back to the government. But as we reported in March, Congress doesn’t seem particularly interested in the answers — many have already made up their minds.
Correction May 18th, 2:06PM ET: We originally wrote that Telegram was founded in Russia. However, Telegram says the legal entity that controlled Telegram when it launched was located in the British Virgin Islands. We regret the error.