As lawmakers duke it out over the legalities of TikTok, their parent company ByteDance has released a new app, and this one promises to have the same data gathering concerns its fabled predecessor comes with. Called Lemon8, the app is spreading across the US after years of success in China.
Designed as a blend of Instagram and Pinterest with a dash of TikTok videos, it reminds many of the Chinese social media and e-commerce giant Xiaohongshu, which means “little red book” in English. Much like TikTok, Lemon8 has a “following” section for people to enjoy the content from people they follow, and a “for you” portion to recommend other content for people to ingest.
Much like TikTok and other apps, Lemon8 collects various user data like IP addresses, browsing history, device info, and other unspecified info. Apple and Google Play both claim the app’s owner as Heliophilia Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based company listing the same address as ByteDance and TikTok.
First coming to market in Asian markets during the 2020 lockdowns, the app was immensely popular in Thailand and Japan, quickly amassing 7.4 million and 5 million downloads respectively. When it landed in the US back in February, there was little push toward making Americans take immediate notice of its arrival. Once media organizations and influencers noticed the app it began skyrocketing in popularity.
While the app already has 290,000 downloads in the US per data.ai and is even on the top downloads on Apple’s app store, it still is a long way from being a mainstay. While many love being able to say they were there when an app started, the number of apps coming out that ultimately fail is staggering.
This means many influencers are left deciding where they want to invest their time and get the best bang for their buck. Having at least one if not two people to handle posting content and interacting with people is something many influencers change to as they grow.
Ultimately that creates more data to mine, information to analyze, and more ways to sell you on something. From what socks to buy for your new suit, to deciding how you feel about exploring for oil in remote Alaska, this data is used to influence everything that goes through your mind. Companies are willing to pay big money for this information, and countries are no different.
One of the biggest concerns about TikTok has been its ability to be influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From manipulating the suggested videos and photos to make people feel suicidal or sympathetic towards leftist agendas, or flooding them with mindless content guaranteed to keep them scrolling, the CCP wants you to see all of it. Meanwhile, in China, the videos are more age-specific, with youngsters being flooded with educational videos to help instill knowledge and national pride.
While the first amendment is a huge part of the Constitution, the American government rightfully doesn’t want China or anyone else influencing what content you are seeing. This is where the RESTRICT Act comes into play. While not specifically naming TikTok or China by name, the language of the bill allows the Commerce Department to review, audit, and potentially restrict foreign access to tech platforms.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), who sponsored the bill along with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) has been vocal about the strengths of the bill. “For too long, our government has been playing a game of Whac-A-Mole when it comes to addressing the various foreign technology threats popping up all around us. The RESTRICT Act would establish a risk-based, intelligence-informed process to evaluate and mitigate the risks posed by tech from adversarial nations, whether that be Huawei, TikTok, Lemon8, or the next viral technology product pushed by an authoritarian nation.”
Many conservatives worry that the language is too vague and too open to being misused. Given the way they are justifying this as not only a risk to our technical infrastructure but also an attack on the first amendment, it would be too easy to claim the same about any app following this. Perhaps tackling this on an app-by-app basis would be best?