FaceApp has Become a Major Privacy Concern

FaceApp has become wildly popular, seemingly overnight, it uses artificial intelligence to modify the photos of its users’ faces to show them what they might look like when they’re much older. It can also make you younger, or change your hairstyle or add makeup.

The sudden popularity of FaceApp raising concerns about the privacy of the users. Some users were concerned that the application would upload a user’s entire Camera Roll to the service. Wireless Lab, the Russian company that runs FaceApp, released a statement claiming that “most” photos are deleted within 48 hours. However, there are no legal guarantees for this in the privacy policy. Wireless Lab, which developed the app, also says users can request that their data be deleted, but the process for doing this is not noted in the policy either.

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“Any information or content that you voluntarily process with the Service, such as User Content, becomes available to the FaceApp anonymously,” the company’s privacy policy says, meaning the photos you send to be altered are FaceApp’s now. Why would FaceApp want these images to begin with? How that information can be mined, manipulated, bought, or sold is minimally regulated—in the United States and elsewhere. However, many users don’t read those policies.

Regardless of origin, tech companies need to do better to protect the privacy of their consumers. Part of this is simply making users more aware of how data are being used. This is the rationale behind privacy policies. Developers need to go further and build actual privacy protections into their apps. These can include notifications on how data (or photos) are being used, clear internal policies on data retention and deletion, and easy workflows for users to request data correction and deletion. Additionally, app providers and platforms such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook should build in more safeguards for third-party apps.

Just last month, Microsoft took down a publicly available data set of 10 million face photos, mostly collected without user consent or notice. Duke University and Stanford University also took down large data sets of face and body images that were mostly taken without notice or consent. The people whose images were included in these data sets probably didn’t know that their faces were being used to train military systems in China.

The FaceApp privacy controversy is not overblown, but some attacks are misdirected. The problem isn’t photo-editing apps or third-party developers or Russian tech companies. What we are facing as a society is a systemic failure to protect privacy when new technologies force our preconceived notions of privacy to collapse.

Yes, you should stop using FaceApp, because there are few controls on how your data, including your face data, will be used.

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