On 4 November 2021, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against Facebook’s parent, Meta, in the Southern District of New York. Facebook has been accused of having excluded rival photo app, Phhhoto, from access to its platform, and for replicating its product with a ‘Boomerang’ function.
Facebook allegedly took interest in Phhhoto shortly after it launched and had garnered significant following, including from celebrities. Facebook offered firstly to integrate Phhhoto’s technology with Facebook’s Messenger service, then with its newsfeed after the photo app declined Facebook’s initial offer. However, Facebook apparently abandoned the partnership after ‘legal conversations’ and subsequently revoked Phhhoto’s access to Facebook’s Instagram Find Friends API reportedly because the app’s usage was growing as a result of its relationship with Instagram. Instagram, which is owned by Meta, is also alleged to have withdrawn Phhhoto’s ability to promote itself effectively using hashtags on Instagram’s platform and modified its algorithm to benefit Instagram. Instagram also launched the ‘Boomerang Video App’ hours before Phhhoto’s launch on Android, which is argued to have been a near replica of Phhhoto’s product.
As a result of Instagram and Facebook’s behaviour, the suit claims that Phhhoto suffered a decline in new user registrations and overall user activity in 2016. Phhhoto claims that without such exclusive conduct, the app would be worth far more today.
In September this year, the New York Times published the details of a strategy of Facebook’s, namely ‘Project Amplify’, which allegedly sought to manipulate the algorithm in users’ newsfeeds to benefit Facebook itself. Facebook is already facing legal action from the US Federal Trade Commission and criticism from the House antitrust subcommittee for similar behaviour, including the exclusion of third-party competitor access to its social media platform and reproducing products that compete with those of Facebook.
For more information, you can read the complaint here. This case will be an interesting one to follow. Please contact Tim Cowen with questions.