From cage fight to page fight: Twitter threatens to sue Meta after Threads app launch

Meta rolls eyes at claim it used former Twits to create rival

Twitter, via attorney Alex Spiro, has accused Meta of stealing trade secrets following the launch of Meta's Threads app, a would-be rival text-focused social media network.

Meta launched Threads on Wednesday for iOS and Android, describing it as "a new app, built by the Instagram team, for sharing text updates and joining public conversations." Threads is not available in Europe at the moment because it doesn't comply with EU data privacy laws.

For those who can use it, you need an Instagram account to log in; it looks a lot like and works like Twitter; it is filled with people saying it looks like Twitter; and it wants access to nearly all your phone's data.

Threads arrives at a time of turmoil for Twitter, buffeted by mercurial management, dwindling ad sales, lawsuits, and layoffs.

The leaders of Twitter and Meta, billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg respectively, have toyed with the idea of a cage fight. The more likely scenario appears to be a page fight, with each wielding legal documents.

In a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg obtained by Semafor, Spiro said Twitter is concerned that Meta has misappropriated its trade secrets and other intellectual property.

The letter claims Meta over the past year has hired dozens of former Twitter employees – a group that happens to be fairly sizable after Elon Musk last October acquired Twitter and proceeded to lay off roughly 3,700 employees or about half the company's workforce.

Anyway, the letter contends that these former employees had access to confidential company information, "owe ongoing obligations to Twitter", and "improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices."

"With that knowledge, 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 says.

Failing to mention that social media apps routinely copy each other's features, the letter goes on to demand that Meta stop using the unidentified Twitter trade secrets. If that doesn't happen, Twitter may seek to enforce its rights through legal action.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone took the opportunity to respond in a Threads post. "No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that's just not a thing," he said.

The letter further advises Meta not to scrape Twitter's data, which per Twitter's Terms of Service is only permitted in accordance with the site's robots.txt file. Specifically, the file, used to tell cooperative bots how to behave, forbids crawling Twitter followers or following data.

While a robots.txt file may have some relevance in certain legal scenarios, it is not considered a legally binding contract. Terms of Service can be legally binding if properly accepted.

Twitter's concern about web scraping recently led the biz to impose limits on the number of tweets Twitter users could read and post. That effort served to boost traffic at BlueSky, another would-be Twitter rival that's currently invitation-only.

In May, Twitter sent a similar letter to Microsoft, alleging that the Windows biz has been violating Twitter's developer agreement and misusing Twitter data. A month earlier, Elon Musk accused Microsoft of illegally using Twitter data to train AI models.

Linda Yaccarino, Twitter's recently installed CEO, in response to Threads taking off – 30 million sign-ups already – said earlier: "We're often imitated, but the Twitter community can never be duplicated."

Twitter has not yet filed a complaint against Microsoft or Meta. ®

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