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The founders of a photo app startup have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
In 2014, Champ Bennett, Omar Elsayed, and Russell Armand founded Phhhoto, which allows users to capture and post a sequence of short, repeated photos, similar to GIFs.
In the lawsuit, the founders of Phhhoto said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was one of the early adopters of their app, which Zuckerberg used and posted on it in August 2014. The lawsuit says the executives said. Other Facebook executives have also downloaded the app.
Facebook and Instagram then “embark on a plan to crush Phhhoto and bring it to a halt”, in part by creating a “ugly copy” of the Phhphoto app, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit states that Bryan Hurren, Facebook’s director of strategic partnerships, contacted Phhhoto in February 2015 about a potential partnership to integrate Phhhoto into Facebook Messenger. Hurren said in an email that Phhhoto was “really awesome”.
Phhphoto declined, but then Facebook offered to integrate the app into its News Feed – something the startup saw as a significant opportunity, since it had previously only been integrated on Instagram.
When Phhhoto completed the engineering work to prepare for the integration, Facebook did not respond to a number of legal conversations.
Phhhoto claims Zuckerberg tried out their app in 2014. Image filed in court by Phhhoto
The lawsuit states that in March 2015, Instagram unexpectedly cut Phhhoto from the “Find Friends” feature. In a call with one of the founders, “Hurren explained that Instagram is clearly angry that Phhhoto is growing its user base through its relationship with Instagram.” according to the content of the petition.
The lawsuit also states that in October 2015, hours before Phhhoto was due to be announced for Android launch, Instagram announced the launch of its own repeat capture feature, Boomerang.
Phhphoto closed in June 2017.
“The actions of Facebook and Instagram destroyed Phhhoto and ruined the company’s investment prospects,” said the petition.
A spokesman for Meta, Joe Osborne, told The Times: “This lawsuit has no merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”
Facebook has faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers over how it competes with smaller rivals. The emails released in 2020 were the result of a congressional investigation that found Zuckerberg said months before Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 that Instagram “could hurt us without becoming a big business.”
In December 2020, Facebook faced an antitrust lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission, accusing the company of harming competition by buying or stifling smaller competitors.
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