LONDON — Thumbs are swiping toward, and eyeballs are amassing on, Vero, the data-free social media app. The platform, which was founded in 2015, said it has witnessed a 2,900 percent increase in users since the beginning of the year and is launching a dedicated iPad version in December.
Ayman Hariri, cofounder and chief executive officer of Vero, credits the spike in growth to the response — and aftermath — of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March, which exposed a breach in Facebook security. It was revealed earlier this year that Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm, had harvested 87 million Facebook user’s data without their consent for political gain.
Last week, members of Parliament investigating the scandal seized Facebook documents from the founder of Six4Three, the parent company of a now-defunct app that searched for bikini pictures on the social media site. The sealed documents allegedly contain proof that Facebook had considered selling user data and British lawmakers plan to publish these documents later this week. Last month, the Information Commissioner’s Office fined Facebook 500,000 pounds for failing to protect user’s data.
In light of the scandal, Hariri stressed the importance of building a platform with an alternative approach and said he’s not interested in “how his users tick.”
“We’re not going to cross any privacy lines, and we’re not interested in mining data in droves. People are looking for something different,” he said, adding that Vero users went from 150,000 to 4.5 million in a matter of months.
The only information collected by Vero is from the signing-up process, which requires a phone number. This is to ensure that the platform remains “troll free.”
Troll-free and data-free social media is not the only draw of the app — Hariri claims that its design is intuitive, which is evident with the new iPad version modeled after the magical newspaper The Daily Prophet from the “Harry Potter” series. The Daily Prophet is a cinematic newspaper, which was first mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” in which the newspaper’s images made use of animation even before gifs became the Internet’s ubiquitous image format.
“We really wanted to give you a sense that you were looking at an interactive magazine, so The Daily Prophet was our inspiration for the layout for things to be moving on your screen as you’re scrolling and optimizing for the use of iPad’s great screen,” Hariri said.
Unlike Instagram, which does not have a dedicated iPad version and only handles low-resolution images, Vero’s iPad version retains the capabilities of the mobile version, plus features including screen orientation. In portrait mode, items will be displayed in a two-column view and in landscape, a three-column view keeps everything in proportion.
Like The Daily Prophet, Vero enables its users to view multiple columns at once and interact with them differently. “You can use a few of our functions at the same time; for example, you can open up our chat on the side while simultaneously scrolling through your feed, looking at photos or watching a video. It’s all very interactive,” Hariri said.
Vero boasts three hero features. Collections offers filters and an optimized search function and will automatically sort through a feed, categorize posts and compile them into folders. It also seeks to make social interactions online useful over time. For example, if a user is following a foodie, they have access to 1,200 restaurants around the world saved for them by name and location.
Filters, but not of the Snapchat kind, are also a big draw for users, because they are able to select who views which post, Hariri said. Users can group their followers into categories, close friends, friends or acquaintances. Users are able to decide who sees which post.
“It works well with things like baby pictures, which will show up on a feed like a regular post, but just marked private or public,” Hariri said. “Your followers will never know what level of privacy they’re set at because we want drama-free social media.”
Hariri argues that Vero’s search function is unparalleled. Instead of only being able to search by hashtag, users can search using keywords relating to the post’s caption.
“You search based on how you remember seeing the post: It really works like your memory. I had mentioned to a friend this amazing place for chicken in San Francisco and he wanted to go, but I was asleep at the time, so he just searched San Francisco, Ayman, Chicken and found it,” he said.
Vero offers free editorial from a dedicated team that promotes and curates content they feel is the most interesting, and most importantly, not targeted. “We’re data free. We just pick out people doing great things and feature them,” he said of the posts, which are translated into seven languages including Japanese, French and Spanish.
The data-free app is free of charge at the moment. The platform is slowly moving to a subscription-based model next year. “We haven’t given a specific dollar amount yet, but it’s a couple of cups of coffee a year,” he said.
“People have to remember that it is easy to gravitate toward something that’s free, but free is actually very expensive. If you think about what it takes to run the free service in terms of data mining and extraction, it becomes very complex,” Hariri said.