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Twitter has threatened to sue Meta alleging it stole the company’s trade secrets when creating its rival messaging app Threads, as the new platform attracted tens of millions of users within hours of its debut.
Meta unveiled Threads on Wednesday as a competitor to Elon Musk’s Twitter. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that more than 30mn people had signed up less than 24 hours after it had been rolled out, putting it on track to surpass OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT as the most rapidly downloaded consumer app at launch.
Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Twitter, accused Meta of engaging in “systemic, wilful and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property” in a letter addressed to Zuckerberg dated Wednesday.
The letter claimed that Meta had hired “dozens” of former Twitter employees with access to highly confidential information about the platform, many of whom had “improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices”.
Meta had then deliberately directed these staffers with building Threads, “in violation of both state and federal law”, Twitter alleged.
Twitter and Meta declined to comment. The letter was first reported by Semafor and confirmed by two people familiar with the matter.
Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla who bought Twitter for $44bn in October, replied to a Twitter user sharing the news: “Competition is fine, cheating is not.”
On Threads, Meta communications director Andy Stone highlighted a quotation in the Semafor report, which had been attributed to an anonymous Meta source and read: “No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that’s just not a thing.”
Threads is a “text-based conversation app” where users are able to publish posts up to 500 characters long and include links, photos and videos. As with Twitter, the posts can be replied to, liked or shared by others. Some users have dubbed the service the “Twitter killer”.
The app, which still lacks some of the functionality of Twitter, is directly linked to Instagram, allowing users to port across their username and existing network. “This is as good of a start as we could have hoped for!” Zuckerberg wrote on the app, billing it as the “friendly” alternative to Twitter.
OpenAI’s ChatGPT took five days to reach 1mn users. It holds the record as the fastest-growing consumer app of all time after it reached 100mn monthly active users in two months, according to UBS analysts. Threads’ pace of growth suggests it will reach that threshold in days.
Threads made its splash as Musk has driven away some users and advertisers with his decision to pare back moderation of the platform and impose disruptive changes to the product and its policies with little warning or explanation.
Over the weekend, for example, Musk prompted criticism from some Twitter users when he introduced temporary limits on the number of posts users could view, in what he said was an attempt to “address extreme levels of data scraping [and] system manipulation”.
Musk has also culled about 80 per cent of Twitter’s workforce and ordered dramatic cost-cutting measures in order to pull the company back from the brink of bankruptcy.
In the letter, Twitter said that it was demanding Meta “take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets and other highly confidential information”, reserving the right to seek “both civil remedies and injunctive relief”. It also warned Meta that it was “expressly prohibited from engaging in any crawling or scraping of Twitter’s followers or following data”.