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'FaceApp' Privacy Comes Into Question During Aging Craze

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By Josh Wells

FaceApp, a free download on the App Store, has taken social media by storm. Celebs from the Jonas Brothers to the Kardashians have already shared their aged faces. But some people have noted concerns on the privacy of not just the photos users are transforming... but the chance the Russian based developer could potentially have access to all the images in your phone, and use them for commercial purposes.

What is FaceApp?

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If you haven't seen the app in action yet — the use for it is simple. Take a photo, and then apply filers that create realistic renderings of the image... transforming your selfies (or photos of others) into realistic older, younger, and accessorized versions.

After hitting the App Store in 2017, it's seen a recent resurgence due to the 'FaceApp Challenge', in which people are transforming their photos to older versions of themselves.

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Privacy Concerns

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But the novelty of the app has some people concerned. Joshua Nozzi, a developer from Virginia, took to Twitter to voice his concerns about the App.

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"BE CAREFUL WITH FACEAPP – the face aging fad app. It immediately uploads your photos without asking, whether you chose one or not. As soon as I granted access to my photos it started listing them slowly a row at a time, almost like network delays."

He added, "I quickly hit Airplane Mode and it instantly listed them all, refusing to let me select any because I’m offline. IT’S UPLOADING ALL YOUR PHOTOS."

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FaceApp's Policy

One user on Twitter took to their social account to highlight areas of the company's privacy policy, noting areas that might raise a few eyebrows.

Additionally, Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, a Massachusetts-based lawyer, tweeted "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)..."

Previous Controversy

This isn't the first time the popular app has come under scrutiny. When the App originally launched in 2017, it was met with controversy as one of its initial filters, named "Hotness", would whiten the skin of people with darker complexions.

The App later renamed the filter "Spark" and the App's founder, CEO Yaroslav Goncharov, apologized stating, “We are deeply sorry for this unquestionably serious issue. It is an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behaviour. To mitigate the issue, we have renamed the effect to exclude any positive connotation associated with it. We are also working on the complete fix that should arrive soon.”

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The resurgence and recent new popularity of the App have created a new generation of users, including famous celebrities and politicians. But as with all new fads, users should caution in using an App that's Privacy Policy is extremely vague.

The Blast asked for comment from FaceApp's developer, questioning whether or not the App itself uploads a user's images at once, and received this response:

"The images are shared totally anonymously. We cannot identify you, your device or any other data based on the pictures. You can learn more about it in our privacy policy."

We've reached out for clarification. In addition, we've asked Apple for comment, as well.

Happy App'ing!

Update from Developer

Update 9:56 AM PDT: After reaching out to the app's developer, Yaroslav Goncharov, The Blast was provided with the following statement:

We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics:

1- FaceApp performs most of the photo processing in the cloud. We only upload a photo selected by a user for editing. We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud.

2- 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.

3- We accept requests from users for removing all their data from our servers. Our support team is currently overloaded, but these requests have our priority. For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using "Settings->Support->Report a bug" with the word "privacy" in the subject line. We are working on the better UI for that.

4- All FaceApp features are available without logging in, and you can log in only from the settings screen. As a result, 99% of users don't log in; therefore, we don't have access to any data that could identify a person.

5- We don't sell or share any user data with any third parties.

6- Even though the core R&D team is located in Russia, the user data is not transferred to Russia.

Additionally, we'd like to comment on one of the most common concerns: all pictures from the gallery are uploaded to our servers after a user grants access to the photos (for example, https://twitter.com/joshuanozzi/status/1150961777548701696). We don't do that. We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet.

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