FaceApp or a trap? - All that you need to know

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Published October, 16 2019

FaceApp or a trap? - All that you need to know

What is FaceApp?

FaceApp is an AI-based picture editing mobile application for both IOS and Android that had brought a catastrophe to the internet and made almost everyone on my Facebook friend list look 30 years older. In Today’s world, where people spend a lot to look younger, FaceApp has gained massive popularity for exactly the opposite reason.

As soon as the application launched, people started jumping on the new challenge that gives them a glimpse of their older version. It is termed #AgeChallenge and if you wish to try it, you need to install FaceApp for free on your smartphone. I too went with the flow and tried it to see how I would look after 30 years. Trust me I was astonished to see myself like that and the result was very convincing.

The growing craze of the Russian application has raised questions on the way it handles user data. If you are also one of them who has been hypnotized by the app then you must know about the dangers and myths associated with it. In this blog, I have tried to cover almost everything that you should be knowing about the popular app.

The journey of FaceApp

The Russian application made its first appearance on the internet in the year 2017. It uses Artificial intelligence to transform people’s faces with a variety of filters to make them more glamorous. Photos that you use on FaceApp are uploaded directly to a server for processing before being sent back to the user.

The app has made a comeback in 2019 with its new-age challenge that has spread like a contagious fever amongst internet users. This time it has brought some controversies with it. It has raised some major security concerns with the fear that the user data is being sent to Russian servers and the claims that it gets access to the users’ entire photo gallery on their phones.

Before explaining the security threats it has brought here is a brief description of the way the app works

FaceApp uses neural networks. Once you install the app it seeks your permission to access your gallery for photo editing purposes. You can also take photos within the app to edit. If your gallery contains a lot of photos it will scan your photo library and select only those photos that feature faces or are suitable for the transformation. Once the editing is done you can share it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Privacy concerns

The biggest security concern that FaceApp online has given birth to is that it is capable of using the content uploaded by users which is mainly pictures for commercial purposes.

Apart from photos, other information includes users’ names, likenesses and voices. It further states that FaceApp may continue to save user data even after it is removed from the App.

The terms and conditions of the FaceApp ask for ‘perpetual’ ‘irrevocable’ royalty-free and worldwide permit to use content, which gives the company the consent to use photos uploaded to apply any filter for promotional purposes anywhere in the world without even informing the person.

As FaceApp does not require its users to log, there is no absolute way to identify the owner of a particular photo. What adds to the worries is that the app stores photos in the cloud instead of storing them locally which as stated by the company help improve performance and traffic.

Amidst all these controversies FaceApp clarified that most of the images are removed from their servers within 48 hours of upload though there is no evidence to support the statement. Surprisingly, there are other apps that follow the same principles to overcome the deficiency in processing power in certain devices.

According to the company, the user data could be recovered to fulfill some legal obligations but there is no specific time boundary on how long the data can be kept. Its privacy policy also mentions that the information collected by the app can be saved and sent to the countries in which FaceApp and affiliates operate. So it is evident that such data can be stored in Russia as the app’s development team is situated there.

Clarification made by FaceApp

In its clarification to the questions raised on its privacy policy, FaceApp stated that though the terms of service mention that data can be transferred to Russia, the user data actually stays on the server.

They also claim that the photos are kept on the server to increase the efficiency of the editing process. The company further added that it has already accepted users’ requests to delete personal data from their server but FaceApp stated that the support team did not proceed with the requests yet. According to the majority of the users do not prefer to sign in, which makes identification of information difficult.

The company made it clear in its statement that they do not share user information with any third parties. They have also confirmed that users have the scope to ask FaceApp to delete their personal data through the “Report a bug” feature in the setting for quick processing.

Well, security experts have not found any unusual activity or practice within the present version of the app. However, it is recommended for users to be careful while sharing photos and other personal data because of the app’s lack of control. I would suggest all the users stop using the app.

People’s inclination towards such photo editing apps is nothing new. Most of the time such apps come with some sort of risks and that is why we need to have better privacy laws that can detect the new dangers and risks that arise from facial recognition, AI and Machine learning and other technological developments.

The controversy that FaceApp created is not an exaggeration. The main issue is not the photo editing app or third-party developer or Russian tech companies; it is our failure as a society to safeguard our privacy when new technologies put it at risk.

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