TikTok, the most popular free app in the US, has in recent days been making headlines not for its content but for alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Its boss, Shou Zi Chew, appeared before US politicians at Congress where he fielded hostile questions about Chinese parent company ByteDance and how much access China has to the app’s data.
But the platform is far from the only Chinese-owned mobile app to conquer Western markets.
Analytics firm Apptopia estimates that another three of the top 10 free mobile apps in the US are also owned by Chinese firms. Two of them are also among the most downloaded in the UK.
So what are these apps and what makes Chinese ones so successful?
Video editing app CapCut is often pitched as a companion editor for TikTok content creators and it was downloaded 13 million times in February alone, according to Sensor Tower.
The video editing tool is optimised for mobile editing on the go and offers a range of features designed to make your videos go viral, like adding popular songs, filters and special effects.
CapCut is also owned by TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.
Shein is a global fashion brand was founded in 2012 and now boats a nearly $15 billion valuation, according to Forbes.
It was founded by Chinese billionaire Chris Xu and is headquartered in Singapore.
A quick search of the #Shein hashtag on TikTok and Instagram will surface hundreds of videos from popular influencers boasting of their recent #Sheinhaul. It uses social media to target GenZ users with hundreds of new products daily at low-cost prices.
It’s been less than a year since this shopping app debuted in the US but it quickly outpaced Amazon and Walmart.
The online superstore sells everything from apparel to electronics and allows consumers to bypass warehouse stores and buy directly from the Chinese manufacturer.
The prices are so low that many Americans were searching “is Temu legit” after the company ran an ad during this year’s Super Bowl.
The company is headquartered in Boston, MA, but it is a subsidiary of PDD Holdings, a Chinese-owned online retail giant that specialises in direct-to-consumer products.
The success of Chinese apps in the US is partly down to the fierce competition that exists in their domestic market where US apps are banned, experts say.
“The tech companies from China have had such an intense period of competition at home that has made them as good or better, in some ways, than American apps,” said Zeyi Yang, a journalist and researcher for the MIT Review who specialises in Chinese technology.
These Chinese companies have also been leaders in developing recommendation algorithms that are highly tailored to meet the needs of users, such as those used by TikTok and instant messaging app WeChat.
TikTok is the first Chinese-owned app to enjoy major success in the global market, but US lawmakers and national security experts have cautioned that Chinese-owned apps could be vulnerable to data privacy breaches and censorship from the Chinese Communist Party.
This same concern has led the European Commission, the UK and Canada to ban TikTok from the phones of government employees.
“How the US and other democratic countries address the challenge of Chinese apps like TikTok breaking outside of China has really profound consequences for free speech and the freedom of information globally,” said Paul Scherer, author of the book Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.
US-based tech firms like Apple have fought lengthy court battles to block government requests for their user’s data, but Mr Scherer said no such channels exist in China.
“At the end of the day, if the Chinese Communist Party tells [a Chinese-owned company], they have to do something, they don’t have an option”, he said.
TikTok boss Shou Zi Chew sought to reassure lawmakers about security concerns by explaining there is a “firewall” to protect Americans.
A statement sent to the BBC by TikTok said US user data was outside the reach of foreign governments. The BBC also reached out to the other apps for comment.
Mr Scherer says that until US lawmakers pass comprehensive data privacy laws, any app could be vulnerable to data breaches, no matter which country owns them.
“There is a danger of a knee jerk reaction that anything Chinese is bad,” he said.
“I think people should be sceptical of all apps. People give up a lot of data on their phones, without fully understanding what they’re accepting, what information that company is pulling, or how they’re using it.”