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Defunct Photo App Sues Meta, Says Facebook Cloned Its Features And Then Drive It Out Business


Facebook is facing another lawsuit. This time it has been accused of copying features of a now-defunct app. Phhhoto has accused Facebook, now Meta, of hiding its name from search results and then apparently pushing it out of the business. Phhhoto was founded by Omar Elsayed, Champ Bennett, and Russell Armand in 2014. The app lets users to capture five frames in a shot burst and then loop it in a short video and present it as a GIF. According to the lawsuit filed by the founders of Phhhoto, Meta chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg was among the early users of the app. Zuckerberg downloaded the app shortly after it was launched and had posted on it in August 2014.

Not only Zuckerberg, several other executives of the company along with former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom used the app to examine its feature. The lawsuit said that it was the main feature of Phhhoto and Facebook copied it and released it on its photo-sharing platform Instagram in 2015. The feature released on Instagram was named Boomerang. Facebook not only blocked Phhhoto from the API of Instagram but also from being pre-populated in Instagram posts. The lawsuit filed in US District Court said that the actions of Facebook and Instagram ruined Phhhoto’s prospect for investment and destroyed the app as a viable business.

“Phhhoto had every chance of becoming a social networking giant. It could have become as big as other social media companies with Facebook that did not interfere. But anti-competitive conduct of Facebook forced us out of the business,” the complaint said. Phhhoto had shut down in 2017. But the founders claimed that it had more than 3.7 million monthly active users when it was doing well. Also, several celebrities like Beyonce, Bella Hadid, and Chrissy Teigen were among the users. They were not compensated but used to post its content on their Instagram accounts. Explaining about the turns of events, the lawsuit said that Facebook’s then strategic partnerships manager Bryan Hurren had reached out to Phhhoto in February 2015. Phhhoto said that Hurren told the company that its feature was really awesome and offered to incorporate its tech into Facebook Messenger.

However, the offer was declined by Phhhoto. Following this, Facebook offered the deal of incorporating Phhhoto content in its News Feeds for users. This looked like a great opportunity for the startup and agreed because earlier it was integrated only on Instagram feed. Founders of the startup said in the lawsuit that the social media giant “strung us along for months and even invested heavily on the project.” But there was no meaningful progress on the supposed integration. Once the startup had done all the technical work to create the platform for the integration. Hurren cited some internal legal conversations that prevented Facebook from moving ahead with the integration.

Then in March 2015, Instagram changed its setting and cut Phhhoto off from its ‘Find Friends’ feature. Following this, the users of Phhhoto were not being able to find their friends on Instagram. Hurren called one of the founders and explained that the company was not happy with the startup because of the way it is growing in terms of users’ base through its relationship with Instagram. The suit went on to allege that just when Phhhoto was about to launch its Android version in October 2015, Instagram launched a feature called Boomerang. The lawsuit called it a ‘slavish clone’ of Phhhoto. A few months later, the startup realized that its content was being suppressed on Instagram. Following a series of setbacks, the startup was forced to shut down in 2017. Phhhoto is now seeking undisclosed monetary damages along with a jury trial.

Commenting on the lawsuit, a spokesperson of Meta said that there is no merit in the suit and “we will defend ourselves vigorously.” Facebook has faced a series of scrutiny in the recent past over the way the company handles its competitor. It is pertinent to mention that emails released in 2020 during a congressional investigation revealed that Zuckerberg had said that Instagram can hurt Facebook. Months later, Facebook acquired Instagram. Last year, the company was hit with two antitrust lawsuits which accused the social media giant of hurting competition. However, the case was dismissed with a judge saying that it failed to demonstrate the monopoly of Facebook.