FaceApp app is the latest to go viral and also create some news. This smartphone app uses artificial intelligence to let users turn themselves into their ‘old self’ version. The app is now number one in 121 countries on iOS App Store, despite being a very expensive app in its full version. But the app, originally launched by a Russian start-up in 2017, has raised some privacy concerns as well with fears that user data was being sent to Russian servers and claims that it was able to access the user’s entire photo gallery on the phone.
Some of these concerns were addressed by FaceApp founder Yaroslav Goncharov who clarified the app’s privacy policies and said no data is transferred to Russia. But privacy woes or not, the app certainly has attracted a lot of users including celebrities across the world.
What is FaceApp and what does it do?
FaceApp, available on Android and iOS, uses Artificial Intelligence to add filters to a user’s photo to show what they would look like when they are older, younger, etc. It can also add smiles to selfies or beards and the app relies on neural networks for this. But what has gone viral is its ‘old age’ filter that gives a glimpse of how people would look if they were old, simply by uploading a selfie. The app has only certain features for free.
What are the privacy concerns around FaceApp?
One of the major security concerns that FaceApp raises is that FaceApp could use the content uploaded by users, which is mostly pictures in this case, for “commercial purposes” for people who agree to its terms and services.
FaceApp’s terms and services ask for ‘perpetual’ ‘irrevocable’ royalty-free and worldwide license to use content, which means any photos uploaded to use any filter can be used by the company for promotional purposes anywhere in the world and the chances are the person may not even know.
Especially since FaceApp do not require users to log and 99 per cent don’t (as per data by FaceApp), there is no way to relate which photo belongs to whom. In short, there is no way to identify a person. So this can be classified as anonymised data used for training machine learning algorithms, but of very limited use otherwise.
What is more worrying is that the app uploads pictures to the cloud rather than storing locally, which according to the company helps with the performance and traffic. FaceApp said in a statement that “most” images are deleted from their servers within 48 hours of upload, though there is no clarity on whether photos are deleted from the AWS and Google Cloud that the company uses as well. However, there are other apps that do the same to overcome the lack of processing power in certain devices.
How has FaceApp responded?
FaceApp has said it does not uploads all photos from a user’s phone gallery to its servers, which was the top concerns for users. It added that only photo selected for editing is uploaded.
The company also denied sharing user data with any third-parties or with Russia even though its core &D team is located in Russia. FaceApp also confirmed that the photos are stored in the cloud for editing and most are deleted within 48 hours.
Finally, users can request FaceApp to delete all their data, the company has confirmed. It recommends sending deletion requests via ‘Report a bug’ feature in Settings for faster processing.