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March 1, 2018

Why Vero Is Problematic And Why It Isn’t

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Written by: Rodney Brown
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Vero-feature

Like many of you readers out there, I jumped on to the Vero – True Social bandwagon recently. I saw a number of cosplay community friends I admire talking about it, and checked it out. My main reason to even give it a look was the description of an ad-free platform with a smarter user interface (UI) than most and better handling of image quality.

Also like many of you, I’ve been frustrated by the app developer’s lack of ability to handle the relatively modest sudden influx of new users. Vero has been hanging up or just unavailable to me fairly often within the last week — shortly after the flood of new users following Katsucon. And then over the past few days came the posts about CEO and founder Ayman Hariri’s troubled business past.

I was mulling all of this over when I got a request from my friend WyldRyce Cosplay to spell out the issues with Vero in hopes that she could make a more informed decision about using it or not. And that brings us to this: there are real problems with the app Vero and the company behind it. What you choose to do with the information below is your choice. I’ll tell you mine at the end.

Hariri’s past
Ayman Hariri is a billionaire, although in an interview with Mashable he makes it clear he isn’t fond of the term. He is the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated. Rafic Hariri was a naturalized Saudi Arabian citizen before returning to Lebanon to run for office. He was accused of being a corrupt politician, but obviously no trial was ever held to confirm those accusations. In my mind, that has little bearing on his son, the founder of Vero.

Vero isn’t Ayman Hariri’s first company. He was Deputy CEO and Deputy Chairman of a construction company in Saudi Arabia called Saudi Oger Ltd., founded by his father Rafic Hariri in the 1970s. It became one of the largest such firms in recent Saudi history. I say was Deputy CEO, because that company went belly up, and hard, just last year. While it was no longer under Ayman Hariri’s leadership (he left in 2013 to start Vero, which launched in 2015), Oger ended up leaving $3.5 billion (with a B folks) in debt and stiffing thousands of workers out of months and even years of back pay. Worse, it stranded tens of thousands of foreign migrant workers (the backbone of any oil-rich Middle Eastern workforce) with no place to live and no money to buy basic needs, much less a trip home. The Saudi government had to step in and provide relief in many cases.

To be clear, Vero was founded before the collapse of Saudi Oger. And Oger’s problems have as much to do with a nearly 90 percent drop in overall Middle East construction projects over the past few years as any kind of mismanagement alleged by the Twitterati. That said, abandoning local and foreign workers and stiffing them for years of back pay is a lousy way to end a business. The Saudi courts did force Oger — which is still owned by the Hariri family — to pay back wages to its workers.

Vero-iPhone-StreamVero’s Terms of Service
Early on in the recent groundswell of new users, some people pointed out that the Terms of Service (ToS) agreement for Vero was pretty much a blanket pass for it to use any of the content you as a user posted, forever and for anything. While that is true, it is no different than the phrasing in the ToS for Facebook and Instagram. Let’s be clear, you still own all the content, you are simply giving Vero unqualified and unpaid rights to use that content as it sees fit. The pertinent section reads:

“…a limited, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, list information regarding, translate, distribute, syndicate, publicly perform, publicly display, make derivative works of, or otherwise use your User Content.”

Again, no different from Facebook, and it is legalese wording that keeps them from being sued should your image wind up on the page of somebody you don’t want to have it. In other words, you can’t sue Vero (or Facebook) if someone you hate shares your content.

Some people have found one section of Vero’s ToS extra troubling. You also give Vero the rights to use “… (without limitation) your name, voice and/or likeness…” that appears in any content you upload. This is also just legalese that protects it from being sued for allowing users to share, and is in the ToS of Twitch, Snapchat and likely any other social media platform that allows voice and video posts.

Ad-free and free for some
In Vero’s mission statement, it says it wants to make a platform that will be free from intrusive ads. To do that, it has adopted a subscription model that has no dollar amount attached as of yet. However, to build a user base, Vero promised that the first 1 million users would not have to pay, ever. The company reached the 1 million threshold a couple days ago, but promised that it would extend the subscription-free sign-up period until further notice, because of the technical issues it has been having. (Note: the link seems to go to the main company page so the announcement may be gone when you click the link.)

“As promised, our first million users have access to Vero free for life. However, given the service interruptions, we are extending that offer to all new users until further notice. We will confirm the start date and pricing of Vero subscriptions soon.”

The takeaway
Should you install or keep Vero, or should you delete it? I can only summarize the info above, then give you my choice — what you do is up to you.

Ayman Hariri’s family construction company treated workers horribly. He was not an executive with the company at that time, and left years before it went under. I don’t know if he has any say in the company as a holder of private company shares, but he certainly wasn’t in a leadership position when Oger decided in 2017 to react to a massive economic downturn by abandoning workers.

Vero’s ToS is no different than any other social media platform we all have swarmed onto in recent years. If Vero deserves one criticism, it is that it hasn’t learned the lesson Facebook did eight years ago during the Facebook ToS outcry. Since then Facebook has gone to lengths to explain what the legalese in its ToS means in basic terms. Vero, not so much.

The service is ad-free right now, and costs nothing still — and will cost nothing for the people who sign up for some undetermined time. Do I trust Hariri to keep that promise of an ad-free, and free-to-me social network? As much as I trust Facebook to keep it’s promises, which is to say, not much. But I can cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now, it is free, with no ads and when it works, is much easier to use than Facebook or Instagram.

I am keeping my account, and hoping that Vero turns out to be at least in some significant part what it promises to be. Because, face it, Facebook is dying rapidly, and we could use a good replacement. When it comes to what your plans for Vero are, as the kids say, you do you.

 



About the Author

Rodney Brown





 
 

 
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2 Comments


  1. Gregg "Wonderllama" Snider

    What I see as potentially a much bigger issue is that some reporting I’ve seen has the entire app being written and maintained by Russian contract coders. Who knows what kind of stuff is hidden in the app? This is a potential gold mine for distributed hacking – people signing up, giving permission to access contacts, media, etc on their phones. Why hack systems when you can get users to install them for you?

    If the State Department can determine that a company as big, public and theoretically safe as Kaspersky must be removed from government computers for fear of buried malicious code…just sayin’…..


  2. Rodney Brown

    Let’s not spread any more unsubstantiated rumors. If you have a reputable link, please post it. But I just did a Google search for this and found not even a hint in 5 pages deep.



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