People Are Now Worried That FaceApp Has Invaded Our Privacy But That Could be Plain Discrimination Instead

Image: NBC News

Unless you were in the mountains training to be a monk, you probably saw a lot of old people on your social media. But who am I kidding, we know you already read  Everything About FaceApp, The App That Makes You Look Much Older 😉

Or maybe you really were in the mountains training and need a little refresher, so here you go.

Faceapp is an app by Russian company Wireless Lab to use artificial intelligence (AI) called neural networks to modify faces on photos. It can add a smile, change genders and age, or make you more attractive.

Or just see this:

Image: faceapp.com

With this kind of results people started having fun with it:

Image: Twitter/getFandom

And then a Faceapp challenge started to find the craziest transformations.

Image: Reddit user u/AyDeeAl

Ok, the Keanu one is a joke since Keanu is immortal, but all that fun is not really important.

Here’s a little story about how a tweet became big news, and how Faceapp may or may not be stealing your information. Which one is it? Only you can decide after reading.

Tweet into an explosion of articles

Here’s a lesson on verifying truth: don’t believe anything you say unless there is definitive proof. Certainly, don’t do it based on a tweet.

Which is exactly what the internet did when Joshua Nozzi tweeted the following (now deleted):

Image: Joshua Nozzi Twitter

If you can’t see, he’s warning people about Faceapp uploading your photos without asking.

And then the internet exploded. Based on no evidence.

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It’s just the fact that the developers are based in Russia, and will need to use your photo in a non-offline process that people are going around spreading “Oh no~ Russians are taking our data”.

Websites started picking the story and publishing about Faceapp, including 9to5Mac, TechCrunch, and Forbes. The Democratic National Committee sent alerts to the 2020 presidential candidates on use of the app. A senator even suggested an FBI investigation. Yep, it went that far.

One clap for the internet.

It’s not entirely true

A security researcher later released a series of tweets so misinformation doesn’t spread. Basically, he found that FaceApp only took the photos that you want the software to transform to upload to company servers.

And those servers are based in the US.

Joshua Nozzi would apologise on his website, saying that he was wrong about his accusation. He only did it because he was angry. And from my side, I don’t blame him much. The ones who picked up the story based on a tweet are more at fault for believing everything.

It’s like if I said the bubble tea apocalypse is coming, and people took that as scientific fact. Like bruh, I’m a writer earning peanuts not a prophet or a scientist with research data don’t believe anything I say.

In reply to Forbes, FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncahrov also said, “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.”

Users can also request that all user data be deleted. And users can do this by going to settings, then support and opt to report a bug, using the word “privacy” in the subject line message.

But is there a cause for concern?

If you’re really paranoid, yes. And if so, you should also stop using Facebook and Instagram.

You might also want to check all the apps on your phone and turn off location tracking and or edit permissions. Faceapp isn’t the only app that might take the information.

Terms of Use

Here’s the concerning paragraph in their Terms of Use:

You grant FaceApp consent to use the User Content, regardless of whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity. By using the Services, you agree that the User Content may be used for commercial purposes. You further acknowledge that FaceApp’s use of the User Content for commercial purposes will not result in any injury to you or to any person you authorized to act on its behalf. You acknowledge that some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that FaceApp may place such advertising and promotions on the Services or on, about, or in conjunction with your User Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

From the bolded portion, it means that they can use your information as they please without informing you.

The premise of the app requires the use of AI, which means that the photos will be processed where the AI is held, which is likely to be a computer in Russia.

It is possible to process locally (i.e. on your phone), but it probably won’t be as photorealistic since the AI is always learning from every photo uploaded. That’s the whole point of the technology.

It is possible that Russian intelligence or police demand FaceApp to hand over data but remember that their servers are based on Amazon data centres, where they could face difficulties trying to extort this information.

In the end, you’re the only one who can say whether this is an invasion of privacy.