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Former Long Beach Mayor and Congressman Garcia Does Not Want to Ban TikTok

Rep. Robert Garcia

March 23, 2023

In an interview on MSNBC this morning, Congressman Robert Garcia sounded more like a TikTok Board Member than a concerned elected official, saying banning TikTok is a bad idea “because 150 million people use the app in the United States… people that built their brand and businesses on the app.”

Governments have expressed concerns that TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, may endanger sensitive user data. In recent months, lawmakers in the United States, Europe and Canada have escalated efforts to restrict access to TikTok.

“Before we ban it, I think we should work on the privacy concerns first,” Garcia told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz Balart.

That statement despite the White House telling federal agencies on Feb. 27 that they had 30 days to delete the app from government devices. Britain and its parliament, Canada, the executive arm of the European Union and New Zealand’s parliament also recently banned the app from official devices.

Garcia went on to acknowledge the danger of TikTok but reiterated he did not want to ban TikTok, “we need to have hearings and debates and make sure security agencies are plugged in.”

Lawmakers and regulators in the West have increasingly expressed concern that TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, may put sensitive user data, like location information, into the hands of the Chinese government. They have pointed to laws that allow the Chinese government to secretly demand data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence-gathering operations. They also worry that China could use TikTok’s content recommendations for misinformation.

Acknowledging that Facebook was a problem, Garcia did not think TikTok would cause the same problems like Facebook did during the last presidential election.

“It speaks to the next generation, people are communicating through TikTok people are finding each other, LGBTQ+ folks are coming out, people are being educated on topics, I think we need to be a little more thoughtful and not ban TikTok.”

The Chinese government has tremendous control over the information and just today, the House conducted a hearing with the TikTok CEO that became very contentious at times; yet Rep. Garcia does not want to ban the app because, as he said several times during the interview, “it has 150 million users.”

India banned the platform in mid-2020, costing ByteDance one of its biggest markets, as the government cracked down on 59 Chinese-owned apps, claiming that they were secretly transmitting users’ data to servers outside India.

Diaz-Villar then asked, “Doesn’t it bother you that a totalitarian regime who is exploiting and destroying Muslims, has no freedom at all in their country, has personal information about United States residents using it for good?”

Garcia repeated his meme ignoring China’s human rights violations, “Before we get to banning an app that has over 150 million users, I think we need to be smart and have hearings holding folks accountable to get TikTok to a better place.”

That statement despite a Justice Department investigation of TikTok’s surveillance of American journalists. ByteDance said in December that its employees had inappropriately obtained the data of two U.S. TikTok users who were reporters and a few of their associates.

The threat to ban TikTok seems to stem from its Chinese ownership.

Critics of the efforts to ban the platform have pointed out that all social media networks engage in rampant collection of their users’ data.

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit digital rights group, recently waged a #DontBanTikTok campaign with the goal of redirecting lawmakers’ attention on TikTok to creating data and privacy laws that would apply to all Big Tech companies.

“The general consensus from the privacy community is that TikTok collects a lot of data, but it’s not out of step with the amount of data collected by other apps,” said Robyn Caplan, a senior researcher at Data & Society Research Institute.

Of course, millions of Americans, digital creators and marketers would hate to see the platform go away, and blocking a popular app could create a political backlash among young people.

The administration could approve TikTok’s plan for operating in the United States. There is also a chance that lawmakers would force ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American company — which almost happened in 2020.