Vero is social media's new kid on the block. Over the course of the past week, the app that has been around for quite a while already, suddenly surged to the top of the iOS store’s overview of most downloaded apps. Vero stems from the Latin veritas, meaning truth. It claims to be a replacement for the popular app Instagram, but designed in a better and more attractive way: no more ads, no algorithm filters and more options.
The app appears to attract people who wish to reach an unfiltered audience and care about privacy. Tattoo artists for instance, who want to show each and every tattoo to their followers, have switched from one app to the other and have started to use Vero.
Vero and the dangers of big data
Vero presents itself as different from the other more established social media by making the implausible claim that it doesn’t use big data. This isn’t too surprising, because Vero positions itself as an 'authentic alternative' to the commercial giant Facebook. Contrary to Facebook or Instagram, Vero promises their users an ad free environment. This promise comes with the suggestion that there really is no need to collect your information in order to be able to target you with ads of things you might (or might not) like. To many, this clearly is a breath of fresh air.
Vero was launched with a discourse that taps into the discontent of many social media users who are critical of Facebook and Instagram. Since the election of Trump and the role that Facebook's big data has played in that election, we see a raising awareness of social media users about privacy issues with these big four. Vero explicitly targets these people by claiming that they created 'something more authentic. We created a social network that lets you be yourself. Hence came the name vero. Meaning truth. We made our business model subscription-based. Making our users our customers, not advertisers.'
This statement suggests that potential users that they are in full control of their privacy and their data. This discourse also clearly targets the business model of Facebook where people's data are sold to the highest bidder. In actual fact, Vero's unique selling proposition is that 'you are not the product anymore, you are the customer'. The pitch about Vero being ad- and algorithm-free begs the question as to how ceo Iman Hariri and his team are going to monetize on Vero. It would be naieve to believe that a social media network can be profitable on subsciptions only, and Hariri is also quite explicit about his business goals.
One of the options is that Vero's business model will revolve around an in-app store, an aspect that is mentioned in their promo video: 'we made it so you can listen to music and buy stuff, without leaving the app'. Eliminating advertisements is of course a smart move for two reasons. From the user's viewpoint, the frequent presence of ads has been widely cited as one of the most irritating aspects of conventional social media environments. In addition, from the producer's viewpoint, it eliminates the middle man and assumes full control over the entire business process. This is a potential stroke of genius, and many will be attracted to Vero because of it.
As for the community of potential advertisers, in the current scenario, they appear to be left on the sideline. This, however, might prove to be virtual reality, for Hariri has already hinted that the door to advertisements isn't fully closed. In his words: "At the end of the day we’re businesses. If I say we’re building a social platform, the first question that comes out of peoples' mouths is, 'How are you going to monetize?' The answer is advertising or we’ll figure it out later". Thus, the main point of attraction for customers appears to be an option, not a firm commitment.
The true Vero, consequently, may well be more complex than what it is currently claimed to be. What is sold as an 'authentic alternative', may be a new version of social media driven by the same principle: we sell you stuff, on the basis of your data. The noise-free interface does not in any way guarantee that big data will not be used - if not through the front door, then perhaps through the backdoor of your shining new Vero app.