In this article, I will tell you about Lemon8: As calls for a national TikTok ban escalate, its China-based parent company ByteDance is pushing a new app in the US called Lemon8.
Lemon8, described as something of a hybrid of Instagram and Pinterest, uses TikTok’s famous recommendation algorithm to deliver users content around fashion, beauty, food, and travel. And it’s quickly found some success with American users: It was briefly in the top 10 free apps on Apple’s App Store around its launch at the end of March and remains in the top 50 to this day.
Because Lemon8 is powered by the same underlying technology as TikTok, and owned by the same Chinese company, it should theoretically be subject to the same concerns around potential privacy and national security risks as its better-known older sibling. This is to say that even if TikTok gets banned, Lemon8 will likely keep standing.
It’s reflective of ByteDance’s strategy of focusing on growing its US customer base, experts say. Even if TikTok gets banned, ByteDance is showing that it’s willing and able to keep introducing new apps to keep growing. In fact, beyond TikTok and Lemon8, ByteDance has another success in its US portfolio: CapCut, a video-editing app.
“This is a huge business for ByteDance. They’re not gonna go down without swinging,” David Glancy, a professor at the Institute of World Politics, told Insider.
Banning TikTok wouldn’t stop China’s influence on US tech
Lemon8’s rise illustrates how difficult it would be to totally unwind the influence that Chinese companies now have in the American market. TikTok very much paved the way, as online retailers Temu and Shein have followed in its footsteps, reaching the top of Apple’s App Store.
“We’re seeing the TikTok playbook, applied elsewhere,” said Mark Shmulik, an analyst with Bernstein.
For Lemon8, ByteDance is pushing hard to get creators on the new app. The Chinese tech giant is paying creators to post on Lemon8, and is hiring a creator partnerships team in New York as it looks to expand, Insider previously reported.
For TikTok, however, the future is less clear. The Biden administration has ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US business to an American company, or else get banned in the country entirely. Meanwhile, bills like the RESTRICT Act are being considered in Congress, which would ban TikTok and other social media apps from countries deemed to pose national security concerns.
The RESTRICT act, if passed, would likely apply to both TikTok and Lemon8 — but likely not ByteDance’s other app, CapCut, which is considered a productivity app, not social media. ByteDance would retain some power and influence in the US.
Similarly, it’s unclear if it would affect Touch Temu or Shein, given that they’re both owned by corporations with deep ties to China. Temu is owned by PDD Holdings, which also owns Pinduoduo, a social commerce platform in China. Shein was founded in China and is now headquartered in Singapore.
In a few year’s time, they could disrupt Amazon’s dominance in ecommerce the same way TikTok is disrupting Facebook and Instagram, Shmulik said. That would mean the conversation around those two apps would be at exactly the same place we are around TikTok today.
And on the flip side, Glancy warns that you would need dangerously broad legislation to ban all apps that come out of China. Some legislators and civil rights groups on both sides of the aisle worry that the RESTRICT act itself gives the Executive Branch too much power. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution that would actually curtail the perceived risks of all of these China-linked apps without going overboard, experts said.