Smartphone apps developed by Chinese companies are spreading rapidly around the world, although governments around the world increasingly tend to view them as a potential security risk. According to research agency Sensor Tower, a third of popular programs on Google Play and the App Store have Chinese roots.
Of the top 475 apps on Google Play and the App Store in the first quarter, 156 were Chinese apps. That’s 33% of the total and up 8 percentage points from 2020. ByteDance’s short video sharing platform TikTok was the most popular, reaching the top 5 in 82 markets, while video editing app CapCut saw very strong audience growth and in 48 markets reached the top 5. Fast fashion provider Shein’s app is popular with young people, especially in Europe and South America, and has made the top 5 in ten countries, including Spain and Brazil. In the US, Chinese apps ranked first, second, third, and fifth for the most popular apps.
TikTok is known for its algorithm that makes recommendations based on user preferences, while Shein is popular with young people for its ability to offer low-cost products using Chinese supply chains. Apps developed in the US have about the same exposure as Chinese apps, with Instagram’s share* and other meta-applications* is 25%. For comparison: in the first quarter of 2020, the share of American software in the mobile software market reached 50 percent.
Despite the rapid growth of developments from the Middle Kingdom, countries around the world are imposing restrictions on Chinese applications, citing national security concerns. In the US and Europe, officials are prohibited from installing them on government devices. For example, in the state of Montana, downloading TikTok is banned, and Shein is described as “There is a risk of data leakage and infringement of intellectual property rights“. Another reason why many countries are tightening security controls for Chinese apps is that the Chinese government has the right to order domestic companies based in its territory to disclose the personal data they hold.
While Chinese software products are distributed around the world, most foreign applications remain unavailable in China due to government regulations. This imbalance, which is paralyzing the Chinese market, could lead to further pressure from governments, despite its popularity.
* It is included in the list of public associations and religious organizations for which the court made a final decision to dissolve or prohibit activities on the grounds provided for in Federal Law No. 114-FZ of July 25. 2002 “On Countering Extremist Activities”.