Update 3.3.18: More information has been added regarding the controversy surrounding Vero CEO Ayman Hariri, as well as functionality improvement on the platform as reported by users over the weekend. 

Vero has become the latest viral social media app to emerge in 2018, surpassing one million registered users in its call to action for bringing back meaningful connections.

While the interface of the app bears a similar resemblance to Instagram with a darker color theme, the appeal of Vero stems from increasing frustration as changing algorithms continue to reduce organic social media engagement.

Vero has used this frustration as momentum in rising to the top of the App Store this week with more than one million user downloads, thanking users “for your support and belief in the need for a Truly Social Network that celebrates people’s passions without algorithms, ads, or bots.”

Instagram’s latest change involves posts no longer appearing in chronological order in newsfeeds, which plays a pivotal role in Vero’s sudden success as users search for alternatives to the platform.

The app may seem brand new, but it initially launched as a dating app in 2015 and has received a number of updates through a team of Russian developers hired to overhaul the platform.

Vero: Instagram Clone

Vero is regarded as an Instagram clone with an added touch of enhanced privacy settings that allow users to label connections as friends, acquaintances or followers, as well as share photos with these specific connections. There are no size dimensions for photos, making Vero a popular alternative compared to Instagram. While there are no ads on the platform, any user who wasn’t part of the first one million downloads is required to enroll in a subscription plan in order to use the app.

Ayman Hariri, founder and CEO of Vero, expressed frustration with other social media platforms as the reason for developing the app.

“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 in interview from March 2017.

Upon sign-up the app asks for your name, email address, phone number and access to contacts, stating “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 app seems promising, but many users have experienced a number of issues that have limited the overall functionality of the platform. Photos are often uploaded with difficulty, the navigation doesn’t work well and access is sometimes limited.

Vero attributes this to the overwhelming traffic it’s experiencing and has rescinded its subscription fees until these issues are resolved as a way to continue enticing new users to download the app.

Since the spike in traffic, users have noted that the functionality of Vero has significantly improved from the weeks when they experienced issues using the platform.

Controversy Surrounding Vero’s CEO

Influencers and photographers are chalking up the app to be a viral fad that will fade away like other forgotten social networks like Ello and Peach, but many users are advocating to abandon the platform due to controversy surrounding its founder and CEO.

As written by Taylor Lorenz from the Daily Beast:

“Before beginning his social media escapades, [Deputy CEO Ayman] Hariri served as deputy chief executive officer and vice chairman of his family’s now defunct construction company, Saudi Oger, a business that was the source of most of his family’s wealth […] under Hariri’s watch over 31,000 complaints of non payment for wages were filed against the Saudi Oger.

The company was so negligent that in some cases the Saudi Arabian government had to step in and provide food and basic living supplies to workers spurned by the company.”

Many of the employees were denied access to medical care, food and water as reported by Reuters in 2016. Saudi Oger closed in July of 2017 and left thousands of its workers unpaid, although no reports of abuse or mistreatment have been filed yet against Vero.

Social media communities are currently trending #DeleteVero on the basis of its CEO’s dubious past, ambiguous terms of service, Russian developers and poor treatment of Saudi Oger employees.

Hariri is the son of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated in an explosion along with 21 others in 2005. His brother, Saad Hariri, also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin who stated that “Russia is following the situation in the country with particular attention” in 2007.

While Hariri served as the Deputy CEO and deputy chairman of Saudi Oger and was mentioned to serve in these capacities as late as 2016 by several sources, Hariri clarified in an interview with Mashable that he cut all ties with the company in 2013 before the issues with Saudi Oger transpired.

Despite cutting all ties Hariri was still identified as an executive of Saudi Oger in a Forbes Middle East profile in 2015; an article in the International Business Times in 2016; and Vero’s own press release in 2016.

Although Hariri claims to have separated from Saudi Oger, it’s unclear how much influence he still had with the company and arguments can be made against his inaction.

#DeleteVero Trending On Social

The following are comments from Twitter users expressing concern over Vero:

“Just so everyone knows. The people behind this app are just about as awful as the app itself,” wrote Ben Bishop.

“ICYMI the founder and CEO of Vero has an extremely dubious past and failed to pay at least 31,000 workers while running his last company into bankruptcy,” wrote Taylor Lorenz.

“Yeah… the user agreement section where they own all my content, my info, and my likeness to use for whatever they want in any way FOR EVER, the painful “delete account” process, and the terrible UI/UXis enough to sour me in and of itself. 3 Strikes in a row,” wrote Juliet Alpha India.

“Tried to #DeleteVero but apparently you have to send in a request. Lesson learned: research the new shiny social platforms more thoroughly next time,” wrote Rachel Orn.

“I’m very torn about the #DeleteVero scenario. On the one hand we have a network finally offering (and living up to) a reprieve from the social networks we now know/hate. But on the other and larger hand we have a shady CEO possibly shady ToS” wrote OSITO.

“This all sounds really shady, but I was thinking I might #DeleteVero because the app hasn’t worked for me for about 5 days now and it’s been 2 days since they said anything about fixing it,” wrote Matt from Nerd Punch.

Despite the call to #DeleteVero, users are still clamoring to join the platform as many are looking for a clear alternative to Instagram and Facebook. It’s too early to say whether Vero is just another fad or if it will collapse under the controversy surrounding its CEO, but the future may give rise to other platforms that will eventually replace the current social network powerhouses of 2018.