The FaceApp Age Challenge is the viral challenge currently sweeping across the Interwebs like wildfire. And if you’ve been scrolling through your social media, you’ll find that all your friends have turned old and wrinkly. All thanks to FaceApp.ITThis viral mobile app has more than 100 million downloads and is still going strong. Even celebrities are all getting into it now.
But wait… there may be privacy concerns
Sure it all seems like fun now, but wait till you read the sort of permissions you’ve granted to the app when you first installed it.
Ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you actually read the terms and conditions of an app? Or anything at all? Because if you did, you basically agreed to:
“grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, 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”.
Lawyer Elizabeth Potts Weinstein breaks down what this means.
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) — see their Terms: https://t.co/e0sTgzowoN pic.twitter.com/XzYxRdXZ9q
— Elizabeth Potts Weinstein (@ElizabethPW) July 17, 2019
Essentially, FaceApp’s allowed to commercially use your details like your name, username and photos without so much as informing or even paying you. And for perpetuity! Even after you delete the app! There are even concerns that they have access to your photo library even if you didn’t grant it permission.
Re: FaceApp, can’t speak to it “uploading” photos but the app is definitely able to access my library even though I have Photos permission set to “never” 🤔 pic.twitter.com/jDMkqu5nML
— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) July 16, 2019
Will we see a real-life episode of Black Mirror‘s National Anthem?
If you think that’s scary, wait till you read about this. It didn’t take long for people to trace the company behind FaceApp to an address in Russia. The fact that it’s from Russia raised fear that an agent of Kremlin could be spying on us.
In an interview with Dailymail, security expert Ariel Hochstadt explained that hackers can track websites that people visit and even “the activities they perform in those websites”. He also goes on to put forth a very Black Mirror-esque scenario:
“Imagine now they used the phone’s camera to secretly record a young gay person, that visits gay sites, but didn’t yet go public with that, and they connect his face with the websites he is using.”
And with the hackers’ access to Facebook accounts, faces and other private data, just imagine a “National Anthem” episode of Black Mirror happening. They could target any member of society and blackmail them. It sounds farfetched, but it’s a very scary possibility.
The Man Behind FaceApp
But who exactly is running the company (Wireless Labs) behind FaceApp? It’s Yaroslav Goncharov. Alas, our worst fears have been realised! But before you erase all virtual traces of yourself, listen to his reason for creating FaceApp.
According to a GlobePost, Goncharov explained in an interview with the Russian Afisha Daily that “FaceApp was born at the junction of two important trends. The first is the ever-growing value of photos and videos. There is an opinion that stories from Snapchat, Instagram and their analogs will soon kill news feeds like Twitter. Facebook is already moving in that direction.”
After graduating from university, Goncharov wrote code for Microsoft for two years and was interested in neural networks — basically what powers machine learning, artificial learning and more. With what he learnt, he applied that to photo processing and FaceApp was born.
Goncharov explains that it’s not easy to make someone smile in a photo when they’re not. “You need to determine the ratio of the parts of the face, the angle of lighting, and more. And for each photo it will be a separate task.”
He trained the neural network of FaceApp by having it analyze millions of photographs. As a result, the app knew how to alter someone’s face when they smile or grow old. “The choice of details – for example, the addition of a long or short hairstyle when changing sex – also depends on the “experience” of the application, that is, which hairstyles were more often worn by people with a similar type of face on the analyzed photos,” he further explained.
The final images are significantly more realistic compared to any other app. From this, it’s so easy to understand why FaceApp is one of the most popular app of its kind out there.
To use, or not to use?
The most important question though, should you stop using FaceApp? Responding to privacy concerns, the company told TechCrunch it doesn’t sell or share any of its user data and that “most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”
With that said, are your fears allayed? Do you continue having fun with FaceApp or is it time to bring out the tinfoil hat? As for me, no tinfoil hat. I’ll probably still use the app just for kicks. I doubt it’s as crazy as what everyone makes it out to be. But then again, that’s just me.