What to know about FaceApp after aging filter goes viral, raising privacy concerns

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019
What to know about FaceApp after aging filter goes viral
ABC News has what you need to know about FaceApp and its aging filter.

If you've been on social media in the last 24 hours, you've probably seen a lot of photos of older people, only to realize the photos actually show what your friends and their kids might look like decades from now.

They're creating the images using the "old" filter of an app called FaceApp, but there are also some privacy concerns that have led Sen. Chuck Schumer to ask the FBI and the FTC to investigate the potential "national security and privacy risks" associated with the app.

"I ask that the FBI assess whether the personal data uploaded by millions of Americans onto FaceApp maybe finding its way into the hands of the Russian government, or entities with ties to the Russian government," Schumer wrote Wednesday in a letter to the two agencies.

FaceApp CEO Yaroslav Goncharov has emailed the following statement:

We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics:

1. FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.

2. 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.

3. We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using "Settings->Support->Report a bug" with the word "privacy" in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.

4. All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don't log in; therefore, we don't have access to any data that could identify a person.

5. We don't sell or share any user data with any third parties.

6. Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.

Additionally, we'd like to comment on one of the most common concerns: all pictures from the gallery are uploaded to our servers after a user grants access to the photos (for example, https://twitter.com/joshuanozzi/status/1150961777548701696). We don't do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet.

Here's everything to know:

What is FaceApp?

FaceApp is a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to alter your face in photos. The free features include adding a smile, changing your hairstyle and making yourself look older or younger.

It has 80 million users, according to ABC News.

Where does FaceApp come from?

FaceApp was developed by a small team in Russia and has been a popular photo editing app for years.

It went viral in 2017 for a very different reason: its "ethnicity filter." The company removed the option to make your face different races after critics called the feature racist.

Why are people talking about it now?

These types of apps tend to rise and fall in popularity in waves, according to TechCrunch. This particular wave of popularity, which has seen it rise to the top spot on the iTunes chart, has been fueled by celebrities such as the Jonas Brothers and Drake joining in.

How does FaceApp's aging filter work?

To access the aging filter that has gone viral, download the app and take a photo of yourself or whoever you want to age. Then select "age" and then "old" and wait for the photo to process.

What are the privacy concerns?

According to the privacy policy, which has not been updated since 2017, the app "cannot ensure the security of any information you transmit to FaceApp or guarantee that information on the service may not be accessed, disclosed, altered or destroyed."

In light of the app's recent bump in popularity, there were some concerns that the app might be uploading your entire camera roll to a server. A Forbes investigation found that this was not the case but that the photos you upload for the app to alter were being uploaded to a server.

A French cyber expert who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson reached out to FaceApp for a comment, and their response seems to agree with Forbes' investigation, which was based on Alderson's work.

In the statement to Alderson, the company also said that you can submit a request to have your data removed from the servers by reaching out through the "report a bug" feature in the app's settings.

Still, Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News' chief business correspondent, said that users might be agreeing to more than they realize.

"FaceApp's privacy page also says they may share user content and your information with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies," Jarvis explained, adding that once you grant access to FaceApp, "you are granting access to all of those companies."

But Jarvis said it's not this app in particular that you should be careful with; it's any free app.

"You're getting the access to your phone so all of your contacts, all of your pictures. Once you allow that, you are giving away everything," she said. "That's how they're paying for it. Free isn't actually free. They're giving away your information."

SEE ALSO: Protect yourself: Every internet user should know these basic online privacy tips