Twitter Threatens To Sue Meta Over 'Copycat' App

The same day Meta Platforms' launched its eagerly anticipated Threads, Elon Musk threatened to sue rival tech mogul Mark Zuckerberg over the “copycat” microblogging app.

“Twitter has serious concerns that Meta Platforms ... has engaged in systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter's trade secrets and other intellectual property,” an attorney representing Twitter wrote to the Meta CEO on Wednesday.

The letter states Meta hired “dozens” of former Twitter employees with access to “trade secrets and other highly confidential information,” and that many of those people “improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices.”

“Meta deliberately assigned these employees to develop, in a matter of months, Meta's copycat 'Threads' app with the specific intent that they use Twitter's trade secrets and other intellectual property in order to accelerate the development of Meta's competing app, in violation of both state and federal law as well as those employees' ongoing obligations to Twitter,” the letter states.

The author goes on to write that Meta is “expressly prohibited” from crawling or scraping Twitter's services, and to warn that the company “reserves all rights” -- including the right to sue.

The letter was first reported by Semafor on Thursday afternoon. 

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone responded on Threads, writing: "No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee -- that's just not a thing."

Meta rolled out Threads on Wednesday, one day earlier than originally planned. By Thursday afternoon, the fast-growing app had garnered 30 million users.

The new app comes around nine months after Musk took control of Twitter and began revising the service in ways that proved controversial with users -- including advertisers.

Consider this statistic: Most Twitter users (six in 10) said they paused using the service for at least several weeks in the last year, according to a Pew Research Center report issued in May. 

What's more, ad revenue appears to have fallen off dramatically: The New York Times reported last month that Twitter's ad revenue came to $88 million from April 1 through the first week of May -- marking a 59% drop from 2022.

One of Musk's first changes was to revamp Twitter's formerly free blue-check system, which verified the identities of celebrities, politicians, brands and other prominent users who might otherwise be impersonated on the service. Musk replaced the free system with the $8 a month Twitter Blue service, which offered verification marks to some users. He also removed the blue checks from people whose identities were previously verified, but who declined to pay $8 a month. (Meta also charges for a blue check verification but, unlike Twitter, never offered a free version.)

More recently, Twitter limited the number of tweets that users could read each day. Verified users are limited to 10,000 tweets per day, while unverified users were limited to 1,000 per day. The company said the restrictions were a temporary measure, aimed at preventing bots from scraping the site.

Since Musk took over, the company also shed more than 80% of its former employees, including many who worked on content moderation and brand safety issues. The new owner, who famously called himself a “free speech absolutist,” also reinstated numerous accounts that had been suspended over alleged violations of the company's content policies.

Meta, by contrast, has indicated it plans to continue to enforce its content standards on Threads.

“As with all our products, we’re taking safety seriously, and we’ll enforce Instagram’s Community Guidelines on content and interactions in the app,” Meta said Wednesday.

Despite Threads' initial surge in sign-ups, it's not at all clear that Twitter users will migrate to the new service en masse. But Twitter's new threat to Meta certainly suggests that Musk views the app as a serious threat.

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