It's no surprise that a new, more "ethical" app would see a surge in popularity in this current political climate. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russia's interference into the 2016 elections through social ads, it's only natural to grow wearier of social media and the potential misuse of our personal information. Enter Vero: an ad-free social media app that doesn't data-mine to create complex algorithms. In fact, the only personal information it claims to collect is a name, email address, and phone number upon sign-up. All the other metrics collected are meant to evaluate the performance of the app itself.
While many people are closing their Facebook accounts for good, and Instagram is, yet again, changing its algorithm to benefit paying advertisers, Vero is profiting from exponential growth. Though it originally launched in 2015, it saw a dramatic surge in popularity last month. Specifically, it went from under 150,000 downloads to three million in just a week.
Dubbed the "true social" app by its founder, Vero has a manifesto that sings the praises of a social app the way social should be: by helping you connect and share the things you love most. It uses a chronological timeline created without algorithms and, therefore, without the use of data mining. Its mission statement even claims to address digital addiction by helping you manage your screen time. Sounds pretty great, doesn't it? We dug deeper and tested it out so that you can find out everything you need to know about Vero before downloading the app.
What is Vero, exactly?
Vero isn't the first app to attempt to take down social giants like Facebook and Instagram. "Vero is the latest in a long line of would-be Instagram and Facebook killers, including the likes of Ello, Mastodon, Peach, and, most recently, Sarahah," says Time. Like many others, it still lacks the user base needed to send the app skyrocketing into cult status. In fact, unless you're a teenager or have friends in the tech industry, you're likely to find yourself with an empty timeline.
An initial promise of free access for life for the first million users drew the first wave of sign-ups. But after a sudden spike in popularity caused a few service interruptions on the app, it extended the offer until further notice. Unlike many social apps, Vero initially announced that it would be ad-free and instead rely on a subscription-based model—one that would ensure the app focused on users, not advertisers. So why is the suddenly trending app drumming up so much controversy?
What's the controversy about?
For starters, there's the app's founder, 39-year-old billionaire Ayman Hariri, son of the assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri (Ayman's brother, Saad Hariri, is currently serving as Lebanon's prime minister). With sudden fame often comes scrutiny, and Hariri is no exception. Since the app's proliferation, his past business dealings have come under examination by the media. At the forefront are his ties to a family construction firm, Saudi Oger, which shut down after over 30,000 workers who were forced to live in crowded labor camps sued for unpaid wages, according to Reuters.
The app's developers have also been put into question. With the current investigation of Russian meddling in our elections, a mostly male and Russian team developing a social media app with a CEO whose brothers have ties with Vladimir Putin isn't sitting well with some, says The Daily Beast. Despite the criticisms, Hariri has done his best to appease the concerns: "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 U.S., France, Germany and Eastern Europe," a spokesperson for Vero told Time.
Anything else I should know?
Another wave of upheaval happened last month on Twitter with the hashtag #DeleteVero after Vero users realized it was near impossible to delete their accounts—the option only leads to a support contact form with a confirmation message that the "request has been sent," without any further confirmation. It's no surprise that the developers must be overloaded. With the sudden surge in downloads, the app has also been experiencing performance issues—so don't expect a support reply anytime soon.
So is Vero worth the precious space on your phone? If you love the idea of an ad-free chronological social app that reportedly won't misuse your data, give it a try. But if the founder's business history gives you pause, perhaps wait around for the next social media app to be dubbed the "next Instagram." As history tends to repeat itself, there's bound to be another one any day now.