Snap CEO Spiegel: It's 'hard to say' if breaking up Facebook would benefit society

Instead, Evan Spiegel thinks product changes could be a better way for Facebook to address privacy woes and other problems.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
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Snap's co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Friday in San Francisco.

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Facebook has repeatedly pushed back against calls to split up Instagram and WhatsApp from the social media giant, arguing it won't solve its woes around privacy, election meddling and other issues. 

It turns out even one of its competitors, Snapchat, isn't sure if a break-up is a good idea.

Evan Spiegel, the CEO and co-founder of Snapchat's parent company Snap, said Friday that it's "really hard to say" if breaking up the world's largest social network would benefit society.

"I think the things that would benefit society are real product changes that they would make to their platform," he said on stage Friday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

Spiegel didn't specify what those changes should be, but noted that the products Snapchat created around ephemerality and privacy pushed Facebook to change their products to compete. Facebook and Instagram are notorious for copying Snapchat's features. Facebook, which owns Instagram, successfully rolled out Stories, allowing users to post photos, videos and text that vanish in 24 hours, for example.

Still, Spiegel said there are concerns around anti-competitive practices. He alleged that Instagram suppressed users from sharing Snapchat content but couldn't say if that was still happening. 

"I'd probably be stupid to talk about it here," he said.

A Facebook spokesperson challenged Spiegel's premise about blocking Snapchat content: "The allegation that we block links or hashtag searches because they are from competitors is simply false. Typically it's because a hashtag is violating our content policies, like if a hashtag contains many pornographic images."

Snap has reportedly been talking to investigators from the Federal Trade Commission who are looking into antitrust concerns about Facebook, according to The Wall Street Journal. Snap kept a dossier of documents -- named Project Voldermort after the fictional antagonist in the Harry Potter book series -- about Facebook's "hardball tactics" used to compete against the ephemeral messaging app. 

"I think the challenge is, you know, finding the right balance, encouraging competition, encouraging people like Facebook to compete by, you know, maybe even copying our products, because that's better for consumers," he said on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Friday.

Antitrust, Spiegel said, centers on anti-competitive behaviors.

Instagram apparently isn't done taking a page out of Snapchat's playbook. On Thursday, Instagram launched a camera-first standalone app called Threads for messaging close friends. Spiegel was shown the similarities between the logo for Threads and its augmented reality glasses Snapchat Spectacles.

"It's a nice logo," he said in response. Spiegel also said he hasn't had a chance to test out Threads, but that the company will continue to build products that resonate with their 203 million daily active users.

Snapchat has faced a bumpy road since it went public in 2017. It's been trying to rope in more users with new AR features and by revamping its Android app. In August, the company unveiled the third version of its AR sunglasses Snapchat Spectacles. Spiegel said he thinks it will be roughly 10 years before there are AR glasses with a display that's widely adopted. 

"We're sort of working our way towards that future," he said.

Originally published Oct. 4, 12:47 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:58 p.m.: Adds comment from Facebook.

Watch this: Facebook's augmented reality glasses will be amazing