It grows: Facebook has acquired the wildly popular gif-sharing service Giphy in a deal reportedly worth at least $US400 ($619) million, even as it stares down an increasingly hostile reception in official DC and antitrust probes by U.S. feds and the states.
Giphy isn’t a platform in quite the same way that two of Facebook’s biggest prior acquisitions, Instagram and WhatsApp, are. But Facebook has a habit of gobbling up any rival service that becomes sizable enough to compete with its own or be worth absorbing wholesale into the Facebook blob—in this case, Giphy’s plugins for everything from Twitter and Signal to Slack and Outlook. A Giphy spokesperson told Gizmodo via email that the company won’t disclose the terms of the deal, but that Giphy will be integrated under the Instagram brand.
According to a Facebook blog post announcing the acquisition, it was a natural fit as Facebook already integrates the Giphy API all across its platforms.
“We’ve used GIPHY’s API for years, not just in Instagram, but in the Facebook app, Messenger and WhatsApp. GIPHY will continue to operate its library (including its global content collection), and we’re looking forward to investing further in its technology and relationships with content and API partners,” Facebook VP of product Vishal Shah wrote. “People will still be able to upload GIFs; developers and API partners will continue to have the same access to GIPHY’s APIs; and GIPHY’s creative community will still be able to create great content.”
This may also raise alarms as Giphy is integrated into secure services like end to end encrypted chat service Signal, raising the prospect that Facebook could be angling to somehow collect data from within those apps. At least in Signal’s case, the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Parker Higgins tweeted, that would be impossible without significant changes as its Giphy plugin is designed to ensure the latter company is never aware of who issued a gif request.
— Parker Higgins (@xor) May 15, 2020
However, Facebook would still be able to collect a large amount of deep analytics like usage information from other services where it is integrated, such as Slack or Twitter. The social media titan has used such information in the past to crush opponents by ripping off their most popular features, as well as serves as intelligence for what other acquisitions it should make in the future.
According to the Washington Post, the deal is likely not large enough to trigger a mandatory review by federal regulators currently pursuing an antitrust probe against Facebook—though the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also investigating Facebook purchases of smaller firms that don’t meet that threshold on similar grounds. It’s quite possible that sucking up another major tech company during that investigation indicates Facebook isn’t particularly worried about the feds pursuing anything more aggressive than a slap on the wrist.
In any case, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has shut down large swathes of the U.S. economy and triggered layoffs and funding crises across Silicon Valley, reports of Facebook’s vulnerability may have been overplayed. Those engines of greed are firing just fine, for now.