The ‘new’ social media app Vero faces strong criticism amongst social media users

Ruth Cunningham explores the difficulties and rise and fall of the app touted as the ‘new Instagram’

The internet was abuzz recently when Vero, a social media app touted as the new Instagram, climbed to the top of the iTunes app store downloads. Vero launched in 2015 and up until recently stalled at 150,000 downloads. For reasons that aren’t exactly clear to anyone, in recent weeks it amassed millions of downloads nearly overnight. What goes up, inevitably comes down and the fall of Vero was as rapid as its ascent.

Vero describes itself as the “social network that lets you be yourself. Hence the name Vero. Meaning truth.” The platform allows sharing of “movies, TV, music, books, places, photos, links” and prides itself on being advertisement free – an achievement no other successful social media app has managed to achieve. In order to do this, Vero is one of few platforms with intention to implement a subscription fee, once they had surpassed their goal of the first 1 million users who would gain free membership for life.

Vero also promised to publish content chronologically on a user’s timeline, attracting attention from Instagram and Facebook users who have widely criticised their decision to organise posts based on an algorithim, a move which many users maintain has been seriously detrimental in terms of engagement with their content.

Despite an initial soar in downloads and subscriptions, which surpassed 1 millon new members, backlash rapidly spread, primarily among Twitter users. Everything from the aesthetics, functionality, demographics of staff and background of the CEO of Vero have led to #deletevero trending across the world.

Here are the main points of contention:

  1.  Functionality

Due to the sudden and unexpected upsurge in demand, Vero’s servers have crashed and failed dismally to cope with the influx of new subscriptions. Many new users report that they are unable to use most of the sites functions.  After four days of extremely limited usability, Vero tweeted “we are scaling our servers to meet increasing demand. We appreciate your continued patience while we work to restore service.” All these crashes have inevitably led to Vero holding only a 2.2 rating on the iTunes charts.

  1. Cancellation policy

Users, having tested out the app and being decidedly unimpressed, discovered that cancelling a Vero account is not as straight forward as one might expect. Unlike literally any other social media website, immediate cancellation of a Vero account is nigh on impossible. There are two ways to attempt to cancel an account, but both of these routes require a “request” being filed with the customer service. This means that there is no guarantee that your data will be immediately removed – you will have to wait an indefinite amount of time for a Vero representative to reply, as they say “as soon as possible.”

  1. 3. Staff demographics

Upon further inspection, some eagle-eyed twitter users spotted something unusual among the publicly listed staff of Vero. Not only is it true that there is just one woman working at Vero, the majority of the staff appears to be based in Russia. This in itself is nothing unusual, however, as Vero itself is registered in New York and CEO Ayman Hariri is based in Italy – it definitely raises some suspicions. Given Russian efforts to utilise social media in influencing the 2016 presidential election in the US, users have become sceptical about entrusting personal data – made more worrying by Vero’s confusing and at times lax terms of service – into unknown hands.

Everything from the aesthetics, functionality, demographics of staff and background of the CEO of Vero led to #deletevero trending across the world

This has raised the question among users – is it wise to trust a social media platform with admittedly loose terms of service and Russian ties to access definitively personal social media data?

In response to this, a Vero spokesperson said, “we are fortunate to work with a team of talented individuals from across the world. Like nearly every global technology company, that includes developers based in Russia, plus talent across the US, France, Germany and Eastern Europe.”

  1. Ayman Hariri

Despite all these snags, there is no fly in the Vero ointment like CEO Ayman Hariri.  Hariri’s claim is that he founded Vero out of pure frustration with other social networks. He told CNBC, “When I did join existing social networks, I found the options for privacy were quite limited and difficult to understand, and also when I decided to get on and connect with a few of my friends, I noticed that their behaviour online was very different than their behaviour in the real world.”

Yeah, I gave it a shot. #deletevero

A post shared by Jason (@datamonk42) on

 

 

This was all well and good, until it became public knowledge that Lebanese billionaire and businessman Hariri had a less than stellar reputation. As son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, Ayman previously held the position of CEO of his family’s construction business, Saudi Oger.  During his tenure as CEO, some 31,000 non-payment wage complaints were filed by Saudi Oger’s workers. More disturbingly, the employees are alleged to have been housed in labour camps, with an extremely limited access to food and water. In some of these cases the Saudi Arabian government had to step into to provide the most basic of living supplies to workers denied payment by the company.

Hariri’s previous experience and behaviour in positions of leadership has fortified calls from social media users to #deletevero, proving at least in this case, that all publicity is certainly not good publicity.

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