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What is Lemon8 and what are its connections to under-fire TikTok?

(Bloomberg) – As the popular short-video app TikTok gains more political control in the United States and around the world, another app from the same Chinese company, ByteDance Ltd., is spreading like wildfire. With Lemon8 downloads soaring in the US, here’s what you need to know about it:

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What is Lemon8?

The app, which markets itself as a “teen community content-sharing platform,” allows users to create longer blog-like posts on topics like fashion, fitness, travel and cooking, accompanied by relevant images and videos. Users can also access a customized feed of posts based on their likes and other creators they follow. Unlike TikTok, which features a rolling list of short videos, the app is more like a mishmash of Instagram and Pinterest. Downloads have skyrocketed in the US, with the app overtaking Pinterest, dating service Tinder and real estate platform Zillow to become the top lifestyle app downloaded by iPhone users.

Who owns it and how does it relate to TikTok?

Information about the app is murky, although regulatory filings and various media reports suggest it’s owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. Apple’s App Store lists Singapore-based Heliophilia Pte as the owner of Lemon8. The Singapore Business Register shows that Heliophilia is located at the same address as TikTok’s local headquarters and lists Zhou Qin, a citizen of Singapore, as a director. Reuters reported last year that the app is overseen by Alex Zhu, senior vice president of product and strategy at ByteDance and former CEO of TikTok. Lemon8 and ByteDance did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

What is special about the app?

Lemon8’s ties to ByteDance could subject it to a similar scrutiny as TikTok, which has been banned from government devices around the world over data security concerns and whose CEO Shou Chew has just endured a grueling US congressional hearing. The ad boost could be due in part to concerns that the US could force ByteDance to divest itself of the app or even impose an outright ban.

How TikTok became a national security issue between the US and China: QuickTake

How long has Lemon8 been around?

Despite its ties to TikTok, Lemon8 bears more similarities to Xiaohongshu, literally translated as Little Red Book. The Chinese app, which calls itself RED — and stresses that its name is unrelated to Mao Zedong’s seminal Book of Quotations — was founded in 2013 as an online community recommending foreign e-commerce sites to users in China. It later entered e-commerce and then evolved into a social media platform where users share their daily life moments through videos and images on topics such as skin care, food and travel. It is very popular with young women. Lemon8 itself launched in Japan in April 2020, according to the New York Times. It surpassed five million monthly active users worldwide last year and has been launched in several territories including Singapore and Indonesia, the newspaper reported.

Why is Lemon8 becoming increasingly popular in the US?

The app’s rise may have to do with a push by ByteDance to promote it in markets like the US and UK. Business Insider reported that the company has paid creators in the UK to post on Lemon8, while the New York Times similarly described their efforts to lure US influencers. It’s too early to tell if his push will lead to lasting popularity. In addition to TikTok, Chinese-owned apps like Shein and Temu from e-commerce giant PDD Holdings Inc. have been attracting new users in the US, helped by ultra-low prices and promotions.

–With the support of Zheping Huang.

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