Is It Safe To Use FaceApp?

Apart from the possibility of kickstarting an existential crisis, is it safe to use face-changing software like FaceApp? Past privacy transgressions (and some corners of the internet) suggest there is cause for concern. Learn about the controversy that arises when selfies and cybersecurity mix.

Is It Safe To Use FaceApp?

What is FaceApp?

If you haven’t used FaceApp, you’ve probably seen images generated by its users. It’s a mobile app (available for iOS and Android) that transforms photos of faces. It includes the usual slew of filters and effects typical of photo editing apps, but the reason it’s gone viral is its uncanny ability to photorealistically transform you into someone else. Want to see yourself as a different gender, as a much older person, or with Kardashian-esque “Hollywood Style?” Just run your photo through FaceApp and gawk at the results.

Not So Fast: Learn How FaceApp Works & Check the User Agreement

In order to use FaceApp, you need to give the app access to your device’s camera and/or camera roll. Already, many privacy watchdogs and cybersecurity experts say that granting inessential permissions is something you should think twice about: The more parties with access to your data, the more likely it is to be used in questionable ways. 

What’s the big deal if someone gets ahold of your silly swapped selfie? Essentially, these images have the potential to be used in objectionable ways that are difficult to anticipate. This apprehension arises from the ever-expanding presence of artificial intelligence and facial recognition software, examples of dubious methods that tech companies have profited from similar data, and a few details specific to FaceApp:

  • Mistrust of Facial Recognition: Automated photorealistic editing of faces requires some degree of AI-driven facial recognition. Facial recognition is everywhere from Facebook to security cameras, including cameras accessible by law enforcement. Among other misgivings, skeptics say that facial recognition is one of the tools that government agencies could use to sidestep laws protecting human rights and individual privacy, and that it has the potential for much more targeted applications from advertising to identity theft.
  • Previous Transgressions By Tech Companies: The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook was found guilty of selling 87 million users’ data for political advertising purposes, is perhaps the most alarming example of how seemingly innocuous data can have a huge and manipulative impact in the wrong hands. In a more parallel example, NBC reports that the photo storage app Ever nonconsensually used members’ photos to train its facial recognition software, which it then sold to surveillance companies.  Consider also that user consent typically comes in the form of a fine-print, multipage agreement that’s often intentionally opaque. If you’re using the internet, it’s virtually inevitable to be tracked and targeted somehow. 
  • FaceApp’s User Agreement & Reputation: So what does FaceApp’s fine print say? Its Privacy Policy confirms that it collects user content (including photos) and associated metadata that describes how the user content was collected and formatted. It also collects device identifiers, which are “small data files or similar data structures… which uniquely identify your mobile device.”  FaceApp says it doesn’t share User Content with any third parties, but that it does share “with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that FaceApp is part of.” On the other hand, data details like cookies log files, and device identifiers may be shared with third-party service providers. The size and scope of this network is unclear. Several websites, including Forbes, note that FaceApp is based out of St. Petersburg, Russia. Given the current American political climate, some are speculating about potential applications for election tampering and espionage. 

 

Should You Use FaceApp?

While this type of technology generates scandal and debate, there is no proof that FaceApp is operating illegally or overstepping its self-stated bounds. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to risk using it or not. To make an informed decision, remember that your photos represent another piece of personal data that could end up being associated with you forever in the unknown parts of the web, which could have consequences that haven’t even been dreamed up yet.

If you’re like most people, though, privacy transgressions will have little effect on the way you use your phone. A Pew study earlier this year found that even in the wake of Cambridge Analytica – despite documented concerns about data privacy, identity theft and cybersecurity – social media use continues to grow, fueled in part by the irresistible allure of FaceApp and other forms of viral entertainment. Ask yourself: Are you concerned about privacy? If so, at what point do those concerns make you change your behavior? 


Emily Ferron

Written by your home security expert

Emily Ferron