Vero: The Good, the Bad, and the Hypocritical
In recent weeks, a little-known app founded in 2013 and launched in 2015 surged the ranks of the iOS app store and gained the number-one spot in Google Play. In the process, the servers supporting the product crashed. What product was this? Vero, a new competitor to social media behemoths Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat, as well as the mac daddy OGs themselves — Facebook and Twitter. Founded by Lebanese billionaire Ayman Hariri, Vero seeks to be an authentic network designed to enhance our relationships with others, rather than detract from life’s experiences. At the time of this writing, there are nearly three million registered users, and the platform itself appears to be growing…fast. So if you’re looking to get in on the action while the going is hot, here’s what you should know.
Unlike what we’ve come to expect from “traditional” social media platforms, Vero is completely ad free. As a result, the company chooses to operate on a subscription-based business model, allowing users to focus on their own content rather than contend with an influx of paid advertising competing with their feed. Of course, when Vero was launched it promised that the first million users would receive free service for life; but due to various circumstances, which we’ll get into, they’ve now extended their freemium model indefinitely.
As for the perks of this particular app, there are several. For starters, the user interface is gorgeous. (If fizzled-out Facebook competitor Ello had been half as beautiful, maybe it would’ve been successful.) In addition, the feeds themselves are supposedly not manipulated by algorithms, meaning your posts are displayed in chronological order (think vintage Instagram). You can also segment your audience for each post, enabling you to share varying degrees of content with close friends, acquaintances and mere followers. This feature may further benefit the marketplace for entrepreneurs that Vero hopes to accommodate. Through a “Buy Now” feature available for verified accounts of brands and influencers, users can actually buy and sell products through posts rather than ads.
And, in many ways, this platform is designed for artist entrepreneurs, choosing to target people and their passions with an early foothold in the cosplay and tattoo communities. Word-of-mouth marketing among these early adopters has since propelled this newcomer to fame, so there may be a true need for this particular offer in the marketplace. And since posts within Vero are meant to highlight photographs, links, music, film, television, books and places, the feeds themselves may be far more eclectic and useful than other social media platforms can boast. Then again, only time will tell.
Due to its unexpected surge in popularity, Vero’s servers have slowed down under the pressure, causing service interruptions and crashes, to the frustration of many new users. However, in response to these issues, Vero has been actively working to increase the capacity of their servers and introduce new software patches for improved service. In addition, the company has decided to extend their freemium offer to new users until these disruptions are resolved completely.
Another issue that new users discovered was that, in order to delete their Vero profiles, they needed to submit a request, as opposed to being able to automatically delete at will. In a recent interview with Entrepreneur magazine, Hariri explained that “anyone who asks to delete their account gets their account deleted.” In the meantime, the company is testing an automatic in-app account deletion feature to be rolled out soon.
Finally, some have argued that the company’s terms of service indicate a uniquely nefarious contract between user and app in which Vero would own any and all content uploaded onto their platform. The backlash behind this assumption soon led to a #DeleteVero movement on Twitter. However, the fine print behind these terms of service is effectively the same on Twitter and Facebook.
In fact, this particular agreement is industry standard for most social media platforms, meaning that Vero is neither better nor worse than those currently experiencing mass market success. Nevertheless, Vero has since updated the language, making it clear that the company does not claim to own any of the content shared through their app. “It’s standard language and standard practice,” Hariri insisted. And what this type of agreement is basically asking is, do we have the right to share your content with other users on the platform? That’s social media 101.
Now, on to the elephant in the room: the founder’s ties to Saudi Oger. This was a construction company founded by Ayman Hariri’s father, Rafic Hariri, who also happened to be the former prime minister of Lebanon (he resigned in 2004 and was assassinated in 2005). Ayman himself was the deputy general manager of the company from 2005 until 2013. He claims he had no role in the company past 2013, when he left Saudi Oger to pursue his stake in Vero. However, the company, which was based in Saudi Arabia, began experiencing financial trouble around 2015. Eventually, Saudi Oger was unable to pay thousands of their workers, which resulted in the Saudi Arabian government stepping in to provide food and basic necessities to employees. At the same time, these workers were housed in cramped and unsanitary dorms without running water, electricity or medical care. The company was forced to shut down in July 2017. But, again, Ayman Hariri claims he had no part in these events, as he had left the company in 2013. So do with that what you will.
The Downright ridiculous
Other claims that have been thrown at Vero include the fact that some of Vero’s employees happen to be Russian developers, supposedly with ties to Vladimir Putin. Yet many tech companies boast employees from all over the world, from Ukraine and Poland to Germany, France and, yes, even Russia. While some among us may be keen on starting a new Cold War, it’s hardly plausible that an up-and-coming social media platform on the cusp of early majority adoption is secretly working for Putin to undermine American tattoo artists and cosplay enthusiasts. Furthermore, this kind of speculation is not only xenophobic but extremely ignorant. If you look at the nationalities employed by many of the tech world’s largest companies, you will find employees with Russian roots. In other words, foreigners working in the global tech industry is hardly cause for concern in and of itself.
As for the claims that Ayman Hariri and, in effect, Vero are to be held responsible for the atrocities which occurred at Saudi Oger, these I find to be particularly hypocritical. Americans still buy Apple products in droves, despite the fact that company employees in China began committing suicide in 2010 due to poor working conditions while assembling iPhones. In terms of privacy and security of content, Facebook was once called “the most appalling spy machine ever invented” by Julian Assange due to the company’s close ties with U.S. intelligence agencies. In terms of deleting accounts, Twitter has done it for their users, without notice, when they had conservative viewpoints. In fact, the company claimed this recent purge was merely a part of their efforts to reduce abusive and fake accounts, yet many are suspicious of their motives. Furthermore, the fifth-largest stakeholder in Twitter is Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who has since had his assets seized as part of an anticorruption wave that has rocked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in recent months. And finally, for those who have qualms with the fact that Ayman Hariri is a billionaire, it is absolutely hypocritical to also be in Jeff Bezos’ fan club — swooning over the richest man on earth — especially when some of his workers are reportedly living off of food stamps to survive.
So is any social media platform perfect? Hell no. Some may even be downright awful for humanity in general. Just know you enter at your own risk, and privacy is not guaranteed (and maybe it’s not even possible). But if you’re going to throw your life onto the internet, the user interface might as well be beautiful, right?