If you have been on social media lately, you have probably seen the latest viral trend. FaceApp is an application available for download that allows you to age yourself digitally. Now it may seem fun but sparked a controversy about privacy and how companies use the data we give them.

What Is FaceApp?

FaceApp is a selfie editing app that went viral in recent weeks. FaceApp uses neural networks (artificial intelligence) to digitally modify a face on any photo while keeping it realistic. It can add a smile, change your age, or make you more attractive its founder said in a statement.

Why The Controversy?

The app appeared to blow up overnight (it first launched in 2017). As a result, it has gotten a lot of attention from privacy advocates. The first thing people have taken issues with is that a Russian company owns FaceApp. There is the possibility that Russia has interfered with elections of its foreign neighbors in the past. As a result, some members of the government raised national security concerns. Chuck Schumer has called the FBI and FTC to investigate the app.

The second concern is the app’s privacy policy and terms of use. All users must agree to it before they can use the app. It states: ‘You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable 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.’

What FaceApp Has To Say

FaceApp’s CEO Yaroslav Goncharov state that the data collected from the app does not go to Russia. He also stated that the company’s servers reside outside Russia. Those servers will delete most of those uploads within 48 hours. FaceApp does not share or sell any user data with any third parties.

The photo is then uploaded since the editing gets completed in the cloud. FaceApp only will transfer the image the user wants edited, not the entire camera gallery to the cloud. Most of FaceApps features are available without logging in and that 99% of users don’t log in. As a result, FaceApp will not retain data that will identify the user.

Key Takeaways

First, if you are concerned about privacy, you can request your data to be removed from the FaceApp’s servers. You need to go to the Settings – Support – Report a bug and put the word ‘privacy in the subject line. FaceApp is currently working on a better process to complete this request.

Second, it’s doubtful there is a Russian conspiracy brewing. With that said, privacy is still relevant. Society as a whole is too willing to trade their information for the latest trends or additional features. This practice is not new. Social media has been one of the most significant transfers of data in history. Every page we like, post we comment on, a picture we release is on the web indefinitely. The Cambridge Analytica was a massive scandal on how companies use our information.

On the flip side, privacy policies are complicated to understand. This is intentional as teams write them of highly paid and trained lawyers. Their goal is to be able to get as much information as possible. All the while keeping the user in the dark about how that data is gets used. They are lengthy and are not easy to follow.

Privacy is a complex subject alone. Digital privacy is something companies, governments, and advocates are still trying to define and protect (or exploit). The willingness of users to hand over their information without considering the ramifications also makes it challenging to regulate. Users can do two things: read the terms before agreeing to them – which isn’t easy. Alternatively, before they ‘allow access’ to their device, they need to consider why that app is asking for that information.

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