By Tracey Dowdy
By now you’ve probably seen or heard of “Vero,” the latest app looking to take on social media giants Facebook and Instagram. It’s not the first upstart to try and elbow the big guys aside. I wrote about Sarahah awhile back, but like Peach, Ello and Mastodon, it didn’t last long or have much – if any – impact on Facebook or Instagram’s user base.
So what makes Vero (Italian for “truth”) any different? Although it’s been around since 2015, it has only recently picked up traction after big name social media users like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez started promoting it. As a result, it’s now the second most popular app in Apple’s App Store and tops Google Play’s free apps chart.
That popularity seems to have come with a price. Initially, Vero promised the app would be free to the first one million users, but after passing the one million mark and running into almost as many “service interruptions,” they’ve extended the offer indefinitely.
Vero’s business model is meant to allow the app to remain ad-free and calls its subscribers “users.” On the other side, most social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, make money via advertising.
So far so good. Shouldn’t we all be rushing to get in on those free accounts?
Maybe, maybe not. Some observers are pointing out the irony of Vero meaning truth when questions surround the integrity of the company’s founder and CEO, Ayman Hariri, a billionaire and the son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri who was assassinated in 2005.
Hariri’s past business practices have made some question whether or not they should be sharing the personal information required to create an account with someone with his history. Hariri was deputy CEO and deputy chairman of Saudi Oger, his family’s construction company, accused of abandoning their workers, leaving them stranded for months in crowded dorms in labor camps with little money and limited access to food, water or medical care. Saudi Oger was so negligent, the Saudi government had to step in to resolve the issue.
Pasquale D’Silva, an animator and software designer with experience designing social apps, tweeted, “The more I read the more I realize it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the CEO’s previous actions heinous.” However, a spokesman for Vero stated that Hariri left Saudi Oger in 2013 “to pursue other initiatives” and has had no operational, management or decision-making responsibility since that time.
If you can get past the Saudi Oger controversy, you might want to note something else D’Silva pointed out: the number of Russians behind the app. Not that being Russian is inherently bad – this isn’t a James Bond movie – but considering Russia’s interference via social media in the last U.S. presidential election, one has to question how smart it is to trust a social media app with potential Russian ties.
There’s already a #DeleteVero movement on Twitter but as they say in the old gangster movies, “Not so fast!” Deleting your account isn’t just a matter of going into your settings and de-activating it. You need to submit a request.
Finally, Vero has been vague about what it’s doing with user data, so as with any other app that’s out there, do your due diligence before you download.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.