Millions Having Fun With FaceApp. Now, the Downside

Critics say users are jeopardizing their own privacy through Russian-made app
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2019 11:41 AM CDT
Popular Face-Aging App Claims Rights to Your Likeness
FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone in New York on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

You may have seen the wrinkled faces of friends online, or shared your own, thanks to an aging filter that transforms user photos via the viral FaceApp. The Russian-made app has been around since 2017 but has seen new interest with the viral #FaceAppChallenge and #AgeChallenge, with participants including Lil Nas X and Cookie Monster. Indeed, FaceApp is now the top-ranked app on the iOS Store in 121 countries. As a result, it's amassed a collection of 150 million names and faces, per Forbes. And that has now raised a slew of privacy concerns. Details and developments:

  • Users grant the app "a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use" one's name and likeness "without compensation to you," per USA Today, which notes most users allow the app to access their photos and Facebook account.
  • Images are uploaded to FaceApp's servers. Developer Wireless Lab, based in St. Petersburg, claims most are deleted after 48 hours, reports TechCrunch, though it's not clear what happens to the rest.

  • FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov goes into more detail in an interview with the Washington Post. Among his claims: The app will "only upload a photo selected by a user for editing" and doesn't touch other photos in the user's camera roll. He says nothing is shared with the Russian government. Tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler tests the app himself and runs through some basics.
  • Kaitlyn Tiffany at Vox notes that while submitted photos are uploaded to FaceApp's own servers, the same is true with Snapchat. She concludes the panic is a bit overblown and "arguably has a tinge of xenophobia." Nonetheless, USA Today reports the panic has spread to include users of video app TikTok, which is Chinese-owned.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer asked the FBI and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the possible "national security and privacy risks for millions of US citizens" on Wednesday, reports Reuters. The Democratic National Committee told presidential candidates not to use the app or to delete it immediately.
  • But deleting the app won't delete your data. In order to have all data removed from FaceApp's servers, a user must submit a request to the app's support team. Fast Company has those details.
(More privacy stories.)

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