Everything You Need to Know About the FaceApp Privacy Concerns

Everything You Need to Know About the FaceApp Privacy Concerns

FaceApp is blowing up online thanks to the #agingchallenge, a viral photo challenge where you can augment your face or someone else's to see what they'll look like in the future. Plenty of celebrities have gotten in on it, and it's been fun (and hilarious) to see the results.

In case you're not familiar with FaceApp, it's an app that can be used to manipulate photos. You can use it to make a person smile, seem to change gender, and look older or younger in their photo. But the old age filter is what's going viral right now.

But with the resurrection of FaceApp's old age filter (it first went viral in 2017), there are some big concerns about the privacy of your photos. Since you upload your selfies to the app, people have raised questions about how that information may be used—especially because FaceApp is based in Russia.

The concerns have grown so large that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the FBI and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the app, he shared on Twitter.

"FaceApp's location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including foreign governments," Schumer wrote in his letter to FBI director Christopher Wray and Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons.

Where did the security concerns around FaceApp come from?

It partly stems from a tweet posted earlier this week by a developer named Joshua Nozzi. In it, Nozzi warned that the app could take all of the photos from your phone and upload them to its servers without getting your permission first.

Nozzi later removed his tweets and wrote on his blog that he was "wrong…full stop." "It doesn't appear any pics are uploaded unless you choose them, at which point FaceApp's servers do the processing 'in the cloud,'" he wrote on his blog. "I formally and unconditionally apologize to FaceApp's creators and to the Internet in general for the unfounded accusation."

Elliot Alderson, who claims to be a French security researcher in his Twitter bio, looked into the claims and also found that they were baseless. In a series of tweets, he explained how he downloaded the app and checked where it was sending users' faces. Alderson found that the photos that you want FaceApp to transform back up to a company server which is based in America—not Russia—as some have claimed.

FaceApp released a statement to 9to5Mac, addressing the concerns. "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," the company said.

FaceApp also said that photo processing is done in the cloud. "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," the company said.

What kind of privacy issues should you be aware of?

Nozzi also wrote on his blog that he "stands by my warning to be careful with this app and other fad apps just like it." He continued, "The biggest oddity is that the app asks for full, unfettered access to your photos (on iOS) without really needing to. It then begins doing … something … with them that takes time, as they appear a few at a time, and rather slowly." According to Nozzi, "it doesn't need access to your photos at all."

In iOS, apps can invoke the system's photo picker, "a system-managed panel that lets users choose the images they wish to 'give' to an app without granting it wholesale access to all your photos," he said. "Indeed, you can refuse it access to your photos and still use the button near the bottom to invoke this photo picker to give it just the photo(s) you want it to have. What are they doing with full access? What might they do in the future? Why request it at all?"

The app also connects to Facebook, Nozzi points out, "whether you want it to or not."

Digitas strategist James Whatley shared on Twitter the content-usage rights users sign when they agree to the app's terms and conditions, and called it a "DOOZY."

"You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you," the agreement says.

Lawyer Elizabeth Potts Weinstein also shared her concerns about this on Twitter. "If you use #FaceApp you are giving them a license to use your photos, your name, your username, and your likeness for any purpose including commercial purposes (like on a billboard or internet ad)," she wrote.

Another thing to keep in mind, per cybersecurity expert Scott N. Schober, president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Inc., and author of the book, Hacked Again: FaceApp's privacy policy states that it also collects location information and information about users' browsing history. "These tools collect information sent by your device or our Service, including the web pages you visit, add-ons, and other information that assists us in improving the Service," the policy says.

"In the Terms and Conditions that users agree to, it explicitly says that it shares information with 'third-party advertising partners,' in order to deliver targeted ads," Schober says.

So...is FaceApp Safe to use or not?

Proceed with caution. "As with every app and online platform, users should be wary," says cybersecurity expert Theresa Payton, CEO of Fortalice Solutions. "It's important for users to understand—especially in cases like this one where the company that runs the app is headquartered outside of the US—how their data and photos are being collected, stored, and used." Payton admits that can be "difficult" because disclosures and terms of agreement are "often opaque."

Also, most people "never take the time to read" the terms and conditions and therefore don't "realize how much they are giving away," says Schober.

"Terms of privacy can always change, and once a user surrenders his or her likeness, he or she no longer has control over how the image is use," Payton adds.

Keep in mind that this applies for a lot of other apps, too. "When you download and use an app such as FaceApp (or any other app for that matter) you open your smart device up," Schober says. "You are agreeing to allow a company to have access to your photos, contacts, and websites you visit."

And, if an app asks if it can access your contacts, Schober says you should decline this.

So, is FaceApp safe to use? It depends on how important your privacy is to you. "I would encourage users to ask themselves whether surrendering private information is worth it," Payton says. "Even in the United States, users have little recourse if and when the private data they've surrendered to tech companies is misused. I would urge users to think beyond the now and consider what the long-term uses and consequences might be."


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Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men's Health, Women's Health, Self, Glamour, and more.

Everything You Need to Know About the FaceApp Privacy Concerns, Source:https://www.prevention.com/life/a28424346/faceapp-privacy-risks/

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