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Zeroing in on Vero's history

Rapid rise of social network app's popularity is marred by controversy and draws scrutiny

It has been touted as the new Instagram - a social network without algorithms, advertisements or fake accounts.

But Vero's meteoric rise - from fewer than 150,000 downloads two weeks ago to about three million currently - has been marred by controversy.

Vero, which means truth in Latin, was launched in 2015 but took off only in recent weeks after people grew weary of the constant tweaks to Facebook and Instagram.

The biggest draw to the app is that it presents a chronological feed from other users that promises to be untampered by algorithms.

Vero allows you to post links, photos and recommendations on books and music, while giving users granular controls for sharing.

In contrast, Facebook and Instagram have complex sets of rules determining what shows up on users' feeds, to keep them using the apps.

Vero was launched in 2015 but took off in recent weeks after people grew weary of the constant tweaks to Facebook and Instagram. The surge of interest in the app drew scrutiny to its co-founder, billionaire Ayman Hariri (top left).
PHOTO: VERO

Another advantage of Vero is that it promises to be free from advertisements.

While it is free for now, the app is supposed to be driven by subscriptions in the near future.

It also takes a cut from its marketplace feature where merchants sell products within the app.

But the sudden surge of interest in the app and increased scrutiny have brought a whole host of downsides.

Chief among them is the man behind the app, Mr Ayman Hariri.

He is a billionaire and the son of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafic Hariri.

Mr Saad Hariri, Mr Ayman's half-brother, is the current prime minister.

Mr Ayman is listed as deputy chief executive of Saudi Oger, a Saudi construction company that made headlines in 2015 for failing to pay thousands of its migrant workers, leaving them destitute and homeless.

As damage control, Vero issued a press release saying that Mr Ayman had washed his hands of Saudi Oger in 2013, before the troubles began.

Observers said the timing is too coincidental.

Vero was launched in 2015 but took off in recent weeks after people grew weary of the constant tweaks to Facebook and Instagram. The surge of interest in the app drew scrutiny to its co-founder, billionaire Ayman Hariri (top left).
Vero was launched in 2015 but took off in recent weeks after people grew weary of the constant tweaks to Facebook and Instagram. The surge of interest in the app drew scrutiny to its co-founder, billionaire Ayman Hariri (top left). PHOTO: VERO

Users have also pointed out that there is only one female staff member, who is in charge of customer support, in a team of 23 employees, a majority of whom are Russian programmers.

All these factors have led to a burgeoning movement on Twitter where the hashtag #DeleteVero has been trending.

But there is one problem.

It turns out that deleting your account is an arduous process at best.

A request to terminate your profile has to be sent to the developers who have not been upfront on how long the process will take.

To add to the negative publicity, users have also complained that Vero is glitchy and has not been working as promised.

To be fair, Vero has been trying to fix the issues in a timely manner.

But the Vero episode shows that all social media users need to perform due diligence before jumping onto the latest bandwagon.

That will certainly go a long way in ensuring the data people share on such platforms is safe.

Samsung unveiled its new flagship smartphone Galaxy S9 amid much fanfare last Sunday, with a focus on augmented reality features.
Samsung unveiled its new flagship smartphone Galaxy S9 amid much fanfare last Sunday, with a focus on augmented reality features. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

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STRANGE BANS IN CHINA

China made headlines in the past week for using seemingly draconian measures in a censorship crackdown on social media.

The China Digital Times, which is based in California, has reported a list of terms that were excised from Chinese websites.

The crackdown occurred after the Chinese Communist Party announced the proposed removal of the constitutional two-term limit for the presidency.

Until the proposed change, President Xi Jinping's two-term limit was to have ended in 2023.

Social media users could not access George Orwell's dystopian classics Animal Farm and 1984, which have strong political inferences.

"Xi Zedong" - a hybrid of Mr Xi's and late Chinese leader Mao Zedong's names - was blacklisted.

Search terms blocked on Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging site which is China's equivalent of Twitter, reportedly include "disagree", "personality cult", "lifelong", "immortality", "emigrate" and "shameless", ostensibly for their potential to spark incendiary discussion.

The strangest ban came in the form of the letter "N".

University of Pennsylvania's professor of Chinese language and literature Victor Mair said that it is likely the Chinese government feared that "N" referred to the number of terms of office.

Although the crackdown turned out to be temporary, many netizens did not take well to the strict censorship rules.

One Weibo user said: "Arrgh, we are going to become like North Korea."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'Zeroing in on Vero's history'. Print Edition | Subscribe