With the recent sporadic surge in popularity of faceApp in past weeks, new questions have emerged about the privacy of users’ data, and whether FaceApp is doing enough to protect them.
This two-year-old app, lets you alter photos of your face in a way similar to some other face apps available out there. The app allows you to create doctored images of your face, mostly with you looking way older or younger.
However, its recent popularity begs a lot of questions, some of which are: why an app which has been out for years, suddenly went viral all over again seemingly overnight. Some have also pointed to the fact that the app requires a data connection, suggesting that there might be a hidden grab of users’ photos. Note: Multiple security researchers have said there is no evidence that the app is sweeping up entire photo libraries.
People have also pointed to the app’s Russian origins as a sign of something evil. FaceApp is owned by, Wireless Lab, a company that’s based in St. Petersburg.
While there is no evidence to support these claims, some other concerns are less far-fetched and easily observable.
An NBC report released earlier this year showed that Ever, a popular photo storage app was using its users’ photos to train facial recognition software that is then sold to law enforcement without users consent. IBM Tech Giant was also found to be using Flickr photos to train facial recognition applications without permission from those in the photos
Although it states that “we will not rent or sell your information to third parties outside FaceApp,” it however explicitly states that it shares information with “third-party advertising partners,” to deliver targeted ads.
It also doesn’t help that FaceApp doesn’t exactly have the best track record. The app was widely criticized for “racist” selfie filters that lightened users’ skin tones in 2017, soon after it launched. A few months later, the app sparked even more outrage when it unveiled a series of “ethnicity change” filters.
FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov provided the following statement:
a. FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.
b. We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.
c. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using “Settings-> Support-> Report a bug” with the word “privacy” in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.
d. All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don’t log in; therefore, we don’t have access to any data that could identify a person.
e. We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.
f. Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.