Facebook has gained a new tool in its escalating rivalry with Snapchat.
The world's largest social network said on Wednesday it's acquiring Masquerade, a startup founded last year that overlays silly and cartoonish images, like an Iron Man helmet or a gorilla face, on people's faces as they shoot video. It's quickly become a top mobile app, according to App Annie, a ranking service.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook said it plans to let the Belarus-based Masquerade, or MSQRD, remain a standalone and free app. The purchase adds to Facebook's list of creative tools, which includes stickers, text on photos and finger doodles.
A Facebook spokeswoman said Masquerade had "world-class imaging technology for video." She added Facebook would continue to enhance its video experience.
Masquerade's effects are similar to Facebook rival Snapchat's filters, which have become such a hit that Snapchat started charging for some of them last year. Snapchat last month launched a popular face-swap filter as part of its larger Lenses tool.
Snapchat's audience is smaller than Facebook's (Snapchat has 100 million daily users compared with 1 billion for Facebook), but Snapchat's influence has grown in the past year because of expanded partnerships with media companies, sports leagues and other purveyors of live events. In April 2015, Snapchat was the third-most-used app among 13- to 17-year-olds, compared with Facebook, which was No. 1, according to a Pew Research survey.
Facebook and Snapchat each say they have more than 8 billion video views daily. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013. Facebook didn't say how much it paid to acquire Masquerade.
Masquerade has been downloaded about 12.6 million times since it launched in December, according to SensorTower, a San Francisco-based app analytics tracker. The app is most popular in Russia (22.4 percent), followed by the United States (15.5 percent).
Masquerade co-founders Eugene Nevgen, Sergey Gonchar and Eugene Zatepyakin will be joining Facebook, and key Masquerade members will work out of Facebook's London offices, the companies said.
"Facebook is investing in a team capable of innovating and executing as the mobile video race heats up," SensorTower co-founder Alex Malafeev said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Masquerade said in a blog post Wednesday that the startup has "worked hard to make video more fun and engaging by creating filters that enhance and alter your appearance."
"Within Facebook, we're going to be able to reach people at a scale like never before," the post said. "This is a scale of audience we never imagined was possible."
But, don't get too excited, said Forrester analyst Erna Alfred Liousas. As technology continues to give us runway for more app experiences, the key will be the ability to provide something that no one currently has, she added.
"Video does have a draw, but we don't know if downloads translate to users beyond a couple months. Remember [recent social media darling] Peach? Is anyone discussing that right now?" she said. "We're fickle creatures."