FaceApp: More than wrinkles lurk beyond the surface

FaceApp, the mobile app introduced in 2017 and suddenly experiencing a revival in social media, might offer a few minutes of fun. But the impact on your personal privacy will be forever.

Kristina Podnar
July 17, 2019

In a world where there are more anti-wrinkle cream advertisements than I can count, it is hard to understand the fascination with using the latest viral mobile app, FaceApp. You can snap your photo and virtually fast forward to see what you will look like when you are old. Who would want that? But there is enough intrigue that social media has resurrected this filter first introduced into the market in 2017, and even the most passive people have taken the leap and fast forwarded the virtual clock, resulting in a river of images on Twitter and Facebook. The app makes it so easy to get in on the fun that most users are not pausing to think about privacy.  And as a policy consultant, that is making me have a visceral reaction.

If you install and use the FaceApp, you are giving away not just your information, but your image and likeness. Your use of the app and acceptance of the Terms and Conditions, means that once you grant permission for access to your photo gallery, the app-maker now owns the right to modify, reproduce, publish and process any and all images that have passed through its artificial intelligence (AI) platform.

And who exactly is now the proud owner of your images? You won’t get much from the FaceApp website, which doesn’t list a company location or any insightful information. Links to “contact” and “investor relations” are simply email address aliases. News outlets have identified the developer as being based in St. Petersburg, Russia, although not much more is known than where the data appears to be hosted (Amazon cloud in the USA and Australia). How will your images be used? You no longer have insight into that, as algorithms inside of the FaceApp AI black box have taken over. While that may not seem like a big deal at the moment, have you thought about what may come a year or two down the road? What happens when you image is used to unlock your iPhone, access your banking information (not that far off) or authenticate you with other services? The stuff of Sci-Fi movies from years past just got real!

If you’ve already installed and used the FaceApp, you might be a little late to recapture the rights you just gave away for a few moments of fun. From all indicators, the app developer is not honoring General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) nor Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requests for data deletion. But going forward, you can make better choices. Like money, your time, or loved ones, personal data is valuable. Treat it as such. Read the privacy statements and consider what information you are giving up and to whom. And in the meantime, remember that we will all get old eventually and have to look at ourselves in the mirror. There is no need to rush the process.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata

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