A lawsuit filed in late 2021 by now-defunct social app Phhhoto against Meta alleging violation of federal antitrust law has been thrown out by a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York. The lawsuit had accused Meta of copying Phhhoto’s core features with Boomerang, a video looping app that Meta launched in October 2015 and later integrated into Instagram. Like Boomerang, Phhhoto invited users to share short GIF-like loops.
U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto granted Meta’s motion to dismiss the complaint due to time-limits imposed by relevant statutes of limitations. Matsumoto said, “Phhhoto has failed in its 69-page Amended Complaint of 222 paragraphs to allege sufficient facts that cure the untimeliness of all of its federal claims” and called the possibility of any amendment to resolve the issue of the lawsuit’s timing “futile.”
The lawsuit alleged that Boomerang was the culmination of Facebook’s anticompetitive efforts, effectively killing the smaller company with a copycat app that reproduced Phhhoto’s offering “feature-by-feature.” In a statement, Meta spokesperson Stephen Peters said that the company was pleased with the outcome and that the suit was “meritless.”
There were a few twists and turns in the saga, including evidence that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself downloaded Phhhoto and made an account a full year before launching Boomerang. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, who led Instagram at the time, also explored the app’s features. According to the lawsuit, Facebook began chatting up the team at Phhhoto, even dangling a partnership offer that languished and never materialized. By 2017, Phhhoto was no more.
The dismissal of the lawsuit comes as antitrust scrutiny against Meta and other Big Tech companies has intensified. The company has been under fire for anticompetitive behavior, including acquiring potential rivals like Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as for privacy and misinformation issues. The dismissal of the Phhhoto lawsuit, however, suggests that the antitrust bar may be set high for plaintiffs seeking to challenge the dominance of Big Tech. It remains to be seen whether other similar lawsuits will meet the same fate.