You’ve let Facebook and Instagram access the personal data from your phone, why bother with FaceApp trending privacy issue now?
FaceApp is a smartphone application that can edit your photo to an older or younger version of yourself. Recently, it has gone viral among netizens (internet citizens or online users). The reason behind this is the fact that we tend to take a liking to cool apps, like TikTok and Snapchat. We are delighted to see ourselves changing throughout times—can you still remember the 10-year photo challenge? How much more if we can manipulate and play with our images with FaceApp Challenge.
Moving forward, privacy is not an issue if you are not hiding anything. You would even love to shout to the world of who you are and what you become. But (yes, there is always that word—but), what if your photo is used for other purposes aside from what you expect it for (fun)? And yet, you can’t take it back because you agreed “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” (FaceApp T&C).
You might not be afraid of the “now known” channels. How about with the “later developed” channels? We are not even sure with what application manipulators are doing with the “now known” smartphone services.
Well, I don’t want to sound like a fearmongering techno-illiterate or a know-it-all techno-geek without any source of information to make a point. I have five social media accounts from the top social networking sites that are “now known.” In spite of the issues of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (now defunct), I still have my Facebook account like all the 2.38 billion users (as of March 2019) of the said platform. So, what’s the real point of making FaceApp trending privacy issue an issue?
The Alleged Russian Data Intervention
In the latest US Presidential Election, it’s not only Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal that is involved with the issue of personal data harvesting. Russia is also associated with the so-called “witch hunt” to find how they’ve intervened in the 2016 election. They have allegedly been transmitting data from the US to influence the result in favor of Donald Trump. You can read how the investigation progress here.
With the FaceApp trending privacy issue, NBC News tweeted that the U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, writes a letter requesting for an investigation into the Russian-based company.
NEW: First to @NBCNews: @SenSchumer is asking the FBI and FTC to conduct a federal national security & privacy investigation into the Russia-based company, Face-App, which is producing all of those aged photos of your friends you’re seeing on social media.
Full letter is here: pic.twitter.com/9Q72yrj92c
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) July 17, 2019
I just want to reiterate a certain provision in their privacy policies that go like this: “We also may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data, with third-party organizations that help us provide the Service to you.”
Russian FaceApp Black Magic
FaceApp is a Russian-owned mobile application based in St. Petersburg. It can turn you into a young, old, bearded, and blonde person. It can also transform you into another gender. The magic is done through the face-changing algorithm of artificial intelligence (I’ve been busy studying this matter for a couple of months now). Sounds awesome, isn’t it? How about taking your data to the cloud instead of a server in the US or Russia, would that be cool, too? Here’s what the founder and CEO of Guardian iOS application, Will Strafach, has to say:
HOWEVER: they do appear to upload single images in order to apply the filters server-side. while not as egregious, this is non-obvious and I am sure many folks are not cool with that.
— Will Strafach (@chronic) July 17, 2019
When asked if the company is taking photos into the cloud, FaceApp owner, Yaroslav Goncharov, answered, “We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.” However, he also asserted that “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.”
Machine Learning and Face Recognition
Face recognition is part of the on-going development to teach robots in recognizing objects. This innovation is commonly called machine learning, an AI application model. This feature is used by Facebook to allow you to tag a friend recognized on your photo. With the case of FaceApp, they have admitted that they “might store an uploaded photo in the cloud.” Meaning, it can go beyond your FaceApp account.
The company says it this way, “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. When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public.”
Here are some of the possibilities the T&C mean to say:
- They may flash your photo on a billboard in Russia or anywhere without your knowledge.
- They may use your photo as an advertising sample without you getting paid from it.
- They may show your photo on a private website you are a member of with your complete name on it, but your friends or the public doesn’t know about it.
- They may turn over your photo to the Russian government or any world government when they ask for it.
You might want to recall, User Content doesn’t only mean your photos. It’s up to you on whether you care about that or not. Goncharov, however, gives this assurance, “We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.” Would you listen to him? It’s your choice.