July 19, 2019
Maybe cheese and wine get better with age, but people? Not so much. The human face and body tend to sag, wrinkle, and discolor as the years go on—no matter how good the bone structure.
So why is everyone on social media so excited about a new smartphone app that allows users to upload selfies and see their future faces, replete with jowls and graying hair?
Celebrities such as Drake, LeBron James, and the Jonas Brothers all have used the instant aging app, much to fans’ delight.
In fact, according to a report by The Washington Post, FaceApp has altered photos for more than 80 million users since its 2017 release; and allows smartphone users to change a facial photo’s age, gender, or hairstyle—often with convincing results. The app uses artificial-intelligence software to automatically alter the photos in seconds, much like similar features offered by Instagram and Snapchat.
But there is one major catch, we are just finding out: On July 17, the Democratic National Committee warned presidential campaigns against using the viral face-transforming FaceApp, citing the software’s Russian developers. It urged campaign staff to “delete the app immediately.”
“This novelty is not without risk: FaceApp was developed by Russians,” DNC Security Chief Bob Lord wrote in the alert to campaigns, which was first reported by CNN. “It’s not clear at this point what the privacy risks are, but what is clear is that the benefits of avoiding the app outweigh the risks.
Founder and CEO Yaroslav Goncharov told The Washington Post that FaceApp’s research-and-development team is based in Russia but that no user data is transferred into the country, and “most images” are deleted from company servers within 48 hours.
However, the app’s terms of service say users grant the company a “perpetual, irrevocable . . . [and] worldwide” license to use a user’s photos, name or likeness in practically any way it sees fit, the Post points out.
If a user deletes content from the app, FaceApp can still store and use it, the terms say. FaceApp also says it can’t guarantee that users’ data or information is secure and that the company can share user information with other companies and third-party advertisers, which aren’t disclosed in the privacy terms.
Goncharov said that users who want to remove their data from FaceApp can make the request through the app by clicking “Settings,” then “Support,” then “Report a bug” with “privacy” in the subject line. “Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority,” a company statement read.
FaceApp’s terms of service say it can share information with a government agency if a subpoena, court order or search warrant is issued and the company has “a good faith belief that the law requires” it to do so. This information can also be shared with any country that FaceApp maintains facilities in, including Russia.
According to the Post, people who use the app also “consent to the processing, transfer and storage of information about you in and to the United States and other countries, where you may not have the same rights and protections as you do under local law.”
Kate O’Neill, a tech consultant, told the news outlet that FaceApp’s privacy terms are still murky, despite the company’s clarification. “People should be savvy about when apps and memes and games are encouraging everyone to engage in the same way,” she said. “It puts the data in a vulnerable state that becomes something that can train facial recognition and other kinds of systems that may not be intended the way people are using it.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost