Following the heat that TikTok and its CEO, Shou Chew, faced in a five-hour grilling by Congress last month, Chinese company ByteDance boosted its marketing for release of another app in the U.S. called Lemon8.

Democrats and Republicans alike left little room for anything more than a “yes” or “no” response from the app’s chief executive when they questioned him on the platform’s connections to China. As Chew was getting grilled, the tech company came out with the new app.

A message sent to creators by ByteDance marketers said, “ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, invites you to become a launching creator on their new Lemon8 platform before it officially rolls out in the United States!” The announcement added it uses “the same recommendation engine that helps TikTok succeed.”

The app’s layout looks like a combination of Pinterest and Instagram, where people are encouraged to share posts on topics like health, fashion and travel. Introducing the app to the U.S. originally in February, then increasing marketing in late March made it seem like the China-based company was not deterred by Washington and its push to ban TikTok.

Lindsay Gorman, head of technology and geopolitics at the German Marshall Fund and a former tech adviser for the Biden administration, told The New York Times, “It’s a social media platform like Instagram, it has to do with gathering information on users and it has the same ownership structure, being a child of ByteDance, so I think the same issues are going to come up.” 

Even if the app initially seems harmless, Gorman added, “Ultimately with social media platforms in particular, they involve content, and eventually that’s always going to lead to political content and news content.”

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Following the TikTok hearing, Tech Crunch reported that on March 28, Lemon8 was in the top 10 overall apps downloaded in the U.S.:

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“Prior to yesterday, the Lemon8 app had never before ranked in the Top 200 Overall Charts in the U.S. ... The firm confirms that such a fast move from being an unranked app to being No. 9 among the top free apps in the U.S. — ahead of YouTube, WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook — implies a “significant” and “recent” user acquisition push on the app publisher’s part.”

Lemon8 was first launched in Japan in April 2020. In the last year alone, the Times reported that the app gained 5 million additional followers after becoming available in more countries, including Singapore, Indonesia and Britain.

Still far off from TikTok’s 1.05 billion worldwide following, the app’s general counsel , Erich Andersen, told The Associated Press, “We’re obviously going to do our best with the Lemon8 app to comply with U.S. law and to make sure we do the right thing here.” He continued, “But I think we got a long way to go with that application — it’s pretty much a startup phase.”

As the Biden administration continues to push a ban on TikTok, Anderson argues that doing so would be giving up. “Banning a platform like TikTok is a defeat, it’s a statement that we aren’t creative enough to find another way,” he said.

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