Technology

Facebook buys Masquerade, app company that competes with Snapchat's Lenses

Facebook Inc. acquired Masquerade Technologies Inc., a young start-up whose Snapchat-like silly selfie-altering tool picked up 15 million users in just three months.

Minsk, Belarus-based Masquerade announced the sale on its website Wednesday, saying that the company was excited to bring its virtual effects software to Facebook's 1.6 billion users. But Masquerade will independently operate its MSQRD app, which connects with several social media apps. Facebook declined to say how much it paid.

MSQRD lets users put filters on their videos so they look like Leonardo DiCaprio, Barack Obama, various animals or a zombie. The company touts Jimmy Kimmel, Snoop Dogg and other celebrities as users.

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Last fall, Venice-based Snapchat launched Lenses, a similar face-masking tool that quickly became a hit. A recent Lens allowed two people in a photo to digitally swap faces with each other.

Facebook, which offered to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013, repeatedly has attempted to emulate popular Snapchat features. Facebook's disappearing chat apps Poke and Slingshot struggled to gain users. But it's had some luck integrating filters and stickers into its Messenger chat app and curating users' posts on Instagram into special highlight reels — akin to Snapchat's Live Stories videos.

Masquerade's software, Facebook says, is just the latest in a series of new creative tools. The start-up's "world-class imaging technology for video" is a welcome addition, Facebook said.

Acquiring small start-ups has also been a strategy for Snapchat. Its Lenses tool, in fact, was the result of acquiring Looksery last year for an undisclosed price. And the deal is starting to pay off. The company has been able to generate revenue from Lenses by getting advertisers to pay for animations that mention their brand, like one in which a cooler of Gatorade got dumped on people's heads.

Masquerade was planning to launch an editing tool that would enable anyone to generate a mask. It's unclear whether those plans, which included launching an animations store, will continue.

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Video customization tools appear to be in high demand; several face-and voice-swapping apps, including Dubsmash and Face Swap, are among the most downloaded apps worldwide.

Masquerade's three co-founders are expected to join Facebook's London office. They created the app during a 48-hour hackathon in November and raised $1 million in seed funding from European investors.

Snapchat did not immediately comment, and Facebook declined to make Masquerade executives available for comment.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Twitter: @peard33

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