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Tue 25 Jun 2019 10:01 AM

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Ayman Hariri lashes out at Facebook for 'building addiction' into its design

People are 'waking up to the high price of free', says Lebanese investor and co-founder of ad-free app Vero

Ayman Hariri lashes out at Facebook for 'building addiction' into its design
Ayman Hariri at the Arabian Business London Awards.

Ayman Hariri has lashed out on Facebook and similar social media platforms for "building addiction into their design" by mining people’s data and insights, affecting their privacy, mental health and even national elections.

Hariri, son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and brother of current PM Saad Hariri, is a prominent investor in tech, and launched an ad-free social network ‘Vero’ in 2015.

Meaning ‘truth’ in Latin, Vero claims to protect its users by eliminating the need to mine their data.

Speaking at the Arabian Business London Awards, Hariri said while platforms like Facebook are ‘free’, users end up paying with their most valuable assets: time and data.

“When launched in 2015, it was jarring to think that we had any chance of competing with the established platforms. But it turned out they were not our biggest challenge. Our true competition remains the damage they leave in their wake. They built addiction into their design in order to grab their users’ attention and consume as much of their time as possible, creating habits that are hard to reverse. As they propelled forward, their users’ best interest was sadly left behind,” he said.

“You see, although users don’t have to pay to join these platforms, they are giving up something far more valuable: their time, their data and insights into who they are. It is the fuel driving a machine that is swerving out of control. But it’s 2019, and people are waking up to the high price of free,” he added.

Privacy scandals

Facebook has been embattled by a series of privacy scandals including its sharing of personal information from almost 90 million users through a data-mining company that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign.

It was criticised again this week by tech experts and bankers as it revealed its plan to offer and manage a new global currency, Libra, to provide users with a “financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people”.

It comes as the state of California is set to introduce a new legislation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, in January 2020 in a bid to regulate the sale of personal data by Facebook, Google and other companies which rely on targeted advertising.

In Septmber 2018, WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton said selling his messaging app to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion is a decision that unsettles him.

"I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit," he told Forbes. "I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day."

Acton was hesitant to adopt Facebook’s model, which uses people’s personal data for targeted advertising.

Arabian Business has contacted Facebook for comment. 

True customers

Hariri, who personally refrains from using WhatsApp, said Vero’s key focus is retaining people’s privacy.

“We’re seeing what addictive design is doing to people’s health, and on the larger scale, how insight-based marketing can go as far as impacting national elections. At Vero, we created a platform that challenges the status quo. By doing so, we are able to treat our users, not advertisers, as our true customers,” he said.

“We’ve always believed that people deserve better, and so we set out to provide them with an alternative, built around the fundamental principle that a person’s privacy is priceless,” Hariri added.

While Vero currently has just five million users compared to Facebook’s 2.8 billion monthly active users, Hariri said it is still early in its journey.

“We are still building. And we’ll never stop learning,” he said.

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