Facebook has been accused of operating an “anti-competitive bait and switch scheme” that misled tens of thousands of developers in order to meet revenue forecasts in its first years as a public company.
The lawsuit filed in northern California by app developer Six4Three alleges that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, and several senior executives “weaponised” user data to gain an advantage over competitors.
The plaintiff is pushing for confidential emails — which it claims provide evidence of the scheme — to be revealed. A judge will decide in July whether to unseal the documents.
Facebook said in a statement that it would “continue to defend ourselves vigorously”.
“When we changed our policy in 2015, we gave all third-party developers ample notice of material platform changes that could have impacted their application,” a spokesperson said.
The company noted that it attempted to work with the developer who rejected all of its suggestions. The social network said there was no basis in fact for claims that certain apps received special treatment because they bought advertising.
In January, Six4Three alleged in a filing that Facebook threatened to shut down developers’ access to data unless companies sold themselves to the social network at prices below their fair market value, bought large amounts of unrelated advertising, transferred intellectual property to Facebook and fed all of its data back to the tech group.
Six4Three developed an app called Pikinis that filtered a Facebook users’ friends photos to find pictures of them in swimwear. The company, which had a beta version on the platform, says it was never able to launch the full version because Facebook closed off access to the lists of a users’ friends and permission to access their profiles. It is claiming damages as a result of breach of contract including the loss of investment and time spent developing the technology.
The company lodged its original complaint in 2015. The lawsuit covers the period between 2012 and 2015.