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You or someone you know might have recently come across a new social-media platform called Vero that aims to replace the current big boys of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This week, it claimed the number one spot on the App Store and has allegedly surpassed one million downloads. It is essentially an Instagram copycat with a chronological timeline, which sounds benign enough, but the shady background of the app’s founder and CEO, Ayman Hariri, as well as the buggy interface and unclear privacy guidelines, have some people clamoring to delete the app altogether. To make matters worse—and not helping to assuage users’s fears over what the app is doing with their information—deleting is a whole ordeal, and you can only request to close your account and wait for a confirmation if you wish to be done with the app.
Hariri is a Lebanese billionaire, son of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005; he is also the half-brother of the country’s current Prime Minister. Hariri inherited some of his father’s fortune; Forbes estimated Hariri’s net worth at $1.33 billion. So, why did he decide to try to get a piece of the social media game?
“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 behavior online was very different than their behavior in the real world,” he told CNBC last year.
Vero promised no ads, a chronological timeline, no need to crop photos into set dimensions, algorithms are not in charge of what you see at the top of your timeline, and it also allowed you to secretly assign titles like “close friend,” “acquaintance,” or “follower” to people you added. The platform allows you to share music, links, movie and TV clips, book suggestions, locations, and pictures.
"In the real world, we don't have an audience," Hariri told CNN. "We treat different people in our lives differently based on our degrees of intimacy. The real, greatest social network that exists is the one that exists between people in the real world."
Hariri believes the platform has gone viral now due to word-of-mouth, but new reports suggest there might be another reason. Prior to creating Vero, Hariri was the deputy chief executive officer and vice chairman of the now-defunct family business, a construction company named Saudi Oger. The company was the main source of his family’s wealth, but it was also the target of a staggering amount of abuse allegations and complaints.
The Daily Beast reports that during the time Hariri worked for Saudi Oger, over 31,000 complaints of nonpayment of wages were filed. Reuters reported in 2016 that Saudi Oger workers were denied access to food, water, and medical care and many were forced to live in crowded dorms in labor camps constructed by the company itself. The Saudi Arabian government actually had to provide food and basic living supplies to workers.
There have been no allegations of abuse or unpaid wages against Vero. "Ayman Hariri had no operational or management or board oversight of Saudi Oger after 2013 and was not involved in any decisions," Vero said in a statement.
"It's unfortunate what happened at the company," Hariri told CNN. "It was a complicated situation of having people not receive salaries and not be happy. It is the furthest thing that we wanted or could have imagined." Hariri added that he had already left his role at Saudi Oger at the time of riots over unpaid wages.
With all that said, the app doesn’t seem to be good tech, either. It currently has a 2.1 out of 5 star rating on the App Store; many users complain about bugs and lag time. Some are also taking to social media to voice concerns about how the app uses the data shared by users.
And of course it’s impossible to even post about it on their app that hasn’t worked for days... pic.twitter.com/jeJcSEvPNO— BEN BISHOP (@BISHART) February 27, 2018
“Vero only collects the data we believe is necessary to provide users with a great experience and to ensure the security of their accounts,” the Vero manifesto explains. But the fact that you cannot freely delete your account is worrying to many.
Did some research on Vero and wanted to delete only to find a delete REQUEST was my only option.— aammyy (@ohhnoitsamyy) February 28, 2018
What the actual... pic.twitter.com/L8oOcX5ADS
“I think this whole thing is insane,” Pasquale D’Silva, an animator and software designer who has previously worked on social apps told The Daily Beast. “I don’t get why a billionaire wants to make a social network and a shitty social network at that… what does he really want out of this?”
“Don’t download that thing unless you’re using a burner phone,” a Palo Alto-based artist named Mr. Fingg, told The Daily Beast.