Chinese video app Zynn, a clone of the hugely popular Chinese video app TikTok, has been removed from Google’s Play Store following accusations of plagiarism.
As reported by Wired this week, a number of high-profile TikTok users say their content has been uploaded to Zynn without consent. Some say their accounts have been cloned entirely, with profiles appearing on Zynn, including their name, picture, and months of back-dated content. In some cases, these videos appear to have been uploaded to Zynn before the app even officially launched in the US.
Zynn arrived on iOS and Android at the beginning of May and quickly rocketed to the top of the download charts. It became the most downloaded free iOS app by the end of May and a top 10 download on the Google Play Store. (Its listing on the Play Store is now defunct.)
Part of the reason for this growth is the app’s reward scheme, which pays users to watch videos and recruit friends. The legitimacy of the scheme is unclear, with some users posting videos of payments while others say they’ve been unable to cash out rewards.
Users earn $1 for signing up, $20 for the first person they get to join, and $10 for every five users afterward. This money can be redeemed as gift cards or cash. Nonprofit media watchdog Common Sense Media has labeled Zynn a “pyramid scheme.”
A spokesperson for Zynn told the Financial Times that the company was using the money it might have paid advertisers to attract users directly instead. “We didn’t want to pay giant corporations like Facebook or Google so we used the exact same amount of money to pay our frontline users instead,” said the spokesperson. “Our app will only have value and significance with a large amount of users on it.”
The same Zynn spokesperson told the FT that the app was removed from the Play Store because of “plagiarism” and admitted that the company has “had some lapses in this area.” Social media accounts claiming to be operated by Zynn say the company is “in communications with Google and working to fix this ASAP.”
Google has yet to offer an explanation for the app’s removal. Zynn is currently live on the iOS App Store. The Verge has reached out to both Apple and Google for comment.
The story of Zynn’s sudden growth can be traced back to a long-standing rivalry between its parent company, Kuaishou, and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance. While Kuaishou’s eponymous video app is hugely popular in China, second only to ByteDance’s Douyin, the firm has yet to break into Western markets in the way ByteDance has managed with TikTok.
The ongoing feud between the companies involves lawsuits and financial backing from Chinese tech giants worried about ByteDance’s meteoric growth. The Information reported last December that Kuaishou received $2 billion in funding from WeChat creator Tencent in order to “contain the threat of ByteDance.”
As well as attracting the ire of Chinese rivals and Google’s Play Store moderators, Zynn is also being targeted by US politicians. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a frequent critic of Chinese tech firms, called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Zynn this week, saying that such apps “empower Chinese leadership to pry into the private affairs of Americans” and that it is unclear if their “ultimate objectives are aligned with the interests of the United States.”