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Snapchat kept ‘Voldemort’ dossier on Facebook aggression

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Snap – parent company of ephemeral social media app Snapchat – has reportedly been compiling a dossier named ‘Project Voldemort’ to record instances of Facebook’s aggressive copycat behaviour.

Facebook Inc unsuccessfully attempted to acquire its social media competitor twice; once in 2013 and again in 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is alleged to have met Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and warned him to either accept an acquisition at a price proposed by Facebook or expect Facebook to copy Snap’s core unique features.

Since these failed takeovers, Facebook - the world’s largest social media company - has been accused of copying popular features from its competitor, such as Snap’s disappearing photos and videos and cartoonish augmented-reality (AR) facial filters, and deploying them across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp (all owned by Facebook Inc).

According to sources quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Snap’s legal team has been recording these allegedly anti-competitive attempts (“hardball tactics”) to steal its features for years and collecting evidence in a document referred to as ‘Project Voldemort’. Details in the document include examples of times in which Facebook staff discouraged prominent influencers from linking to Snap on their Instagram accounts by threatening to remove their verification badges and possible cases of Facebook deliberately suppressing Snap-related content from trending on Instagram.

Facebook has also been accused of having used data quietly gathered through a VPN app – belonging to a start-up, Onavo, acquired by Facebook – to track the popularity of its competitors and acquire any of them which posed a threat to its dominance. This data contributed to Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp and alerted Facebook to Snapchat’s growing popularity, particularly among young people.

In July, it emerged that Facebook was once again under investigation in the US. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating alleged anti-competitive practices by the tech giant and is reaching out to “dozens of tech executives and app developers” who may be able to present evidence of Facebook’s possible anti-trust violations. The House of Representatives, a number of State Attorneys General, the European Commission and the US Justice Department are engaged in similar investigations.

The news of the latest FTC investigation followed just days after it emerged that Facebook had agreed to a $5bn settlement with the FTC over its role in the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, which involved the misuse of 87 million unwitting users’ Facebook data for political targeting purposes.

With growing support for new anti-trust legislation targeted at digital giants amid frontrunners in the race for the Democratic presidential candidate nomination, Facebook being found to have abused its dominant position in the social media sector could potentially lead to its breakup by US regulators.

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