March 7, 2018

How Vero became the most-loved and most hated social media app in a matter of days

For the record, Vero is very similar to Instagram except it also lets you post text or link to web content with URLs. It lets you sort your contacts into tiers and decide how big an audience each post goes out to. Your feed shows all your friends’ posts in reverse chronological order, like Facebook in the good old days. The app also offers a platform for discussing and recommending music, books and films, but if content creators want to set up shop in the app to promote their wares Vero takes a juicy cut. True to its word it does not display ads, but it says it is only offering free memberships for the first one million people to make accounts (a brilliant marketing move which likely also helped fuel the rush of sign-ups) and that everyone thereafter will pay an annual fee.

Unfortunately, at the same time Vero was riding a viral wave of success its service was becoming incredibly unstable, which the app’s administrators confirmed was due to the unprecedented influx in users crushing its servers. This made it hard for new users to download the app, create an account, sign in, read the privacy policy or do anything other than stare at the login screen.

By Wednesday, things had taken a nasty turn. Many users online had dug through Vero’s privacy policy and terms of service, and weren’t happy with what they found. Others questioned whether they could trust the app’s claims of being privacy-conscious and ethical with data, which is only sensible when considering a service that will potentially store a huge amount of your private information and communications. Many content creators said the platform didn’t make sense for them financially.

Most contentious of all, people simply googling the app founder’s name discovered his ties to an horrific 2016 event in Saudi Arabia, where a construction company run by his family withheld pay from thousands of immigrant workers, and then abandoned them without food, water or electricity in labour camps.

Early on Wednesday morning, Australia time, Mashable published an article called “How to delete your Vero account,” as sure a sign of the app’s imminent decline as you could get. As it turns out, removing your information from Vero’s servers is no easy task. Even if you manage to log in to the app, you’re required to send an email to the company and hope they’ll reply before your account can be removed.

Whether or not Vero is a competent, interesting and above-board social network that will continue to be enjoyed by a small audience (and there have been plenty of those, including Peach and Ello), for now it appears to have become a victim of its own hype, shining an incomprehensibly bright spotlight on itself that it just wasn’t ready to sit under.

Those feeling put out by Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms and ad targeting may have valid concerns. But next time a too-good-to-be-true alternative comes knocking it might be worth finding out what it is, or waiting two days to see if it pans out, before signing up.

Tim is the editor of Fairfax’s technology sections, as well as a writer and reviewer specialising in video game coverage.

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