Twitter’s parent company Meta’s newest project, the text-based offshoot called Threads, has encountered legal trouble just hours after its launch. Elon Musk’s lawyer sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg accusing the company of “systematic, willful and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property.” The letter was obtained by the news website Semafor. It argues that Meta hired former Twitter employees with access to sensitive information, which was then used to develop the new app.
While the app has only logged 30 million users as of this writing, it’s designed to be a direct rival to Twitter. Twitter has a whopping 372 million active users, while Instagram, which will be linked to Threads, boasts over 2 billion. The social media giants are also competing with other services like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and YouTube.
Unlike most of those other rivals, Threads has the resources, brand name recognition, and compatibility with Instagram to draw in potential users. Many were already flocking to it late Wednesday as Twitter’s rate limit changes prompted people to look for alternatives. Kim Kardashian, for example, amassed 1.7 million followers on the new platform within five hours of its release. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who’s working on a Twitter replacement project he calls BlueSky, temporarily paused new signups to deal with the influx of users.
The new app has a lot of potential to be a Twitter killer, especially considering its ability to tap into the massive user base on Instagram. It also has a clean interface, a focus on conversations, and a promise to “protect privacy.” However, many users have voiced concerns over the app’s data collection policy.
A Meta spokesperson disputed the allegations in the letter. He says that none of the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee and that the company isn’t using any of its information in the app. He added that the company is working to make Threads compatible with the decentralized social networking protocol ActivityPub, which would let its users share their content on other sites that support it.
If the threat is real, it could be an expensive battle for both sides. The suit could require Twitter to hand over some of its confidential data, such as its estimates of how many accounts are spam or bots based on private data that’s hard for outsiders to verify. It could also compel Meta to pull the app from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, which currently only has one listing each.
But despite the potential financial fallout from a lawsuit, it’s unclear whether Twitter will sue Meta over the new app. Its last foray into the world of side apps was a fiasco with an anonymous teen app, which it shuttered less than two years after its debut. It’s far from the only failure for the Silicon Valley giant. It has also killed projects like Nextdoor clone Neighborhoods, couples app Tuned, student-focused site Campus, and video dating service Sparked.