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Warnings over FaceApp privacy concerns

It’s all over our feeds, but the Russian owned FaceApp has some fairly sketchy privacy rules.

Ever wondered what you’d look like as an old person? You probably haven’t given it that much thought, but thanks to the new-found popularity of FaceApp you can now see into your future. The app has been going viral this week as members of group chats up and down the land share altered images of themselves that depict what they may look like as 80-year-olds.

For a few days it was nothing but a bit of harmless fun, until users started noticing the vague and potentially concerning privacy rules hidden deep in the application’s terms and conditions that, let’s be honest, most of us never read. How the app uses our photos is not particularly specific, and the app itself is owned by a Russian company, which has prompted one congressman to request an FBI investigation.

Is it anything we should be concerned about? Some experts reckon not, and FaceApp has cleared up how it uses our data, but the sudden alarm highlights how easily we give up our privacy to companies without even reading the fine print.

Where did FaceApp come from?

The app isn’t actually that new – it launched two years ago and made headlines when it received backlash for an ‘ethnicity filter’. That was quickly removed, unsurprisingly, but it does have a host of other, non-offensive features such as hairstyle and facial expression changes. It’s free, easy to use, and creates content that everyone wants to share. In short, a perfect hit.

There are also a host of features hidden behind a ‘pro’ paywall, which is where the app supposedly makes its revenue. The company’s based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, which is most likely what caused this whole panic in the first place.

Here’s the thing – yes, FaceApp is asking for ‘irrevocable worldwide’ use of your likeness and image, but this is true of nearly every single tech app you use. Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram all take your uploaded data to train AI and
develop machinery. To what extent they use this info is known only to the companies, but it is happening. And it’s happening everywhere, not just in Russia.

Should I be worried?

Don’t get out your tin hats out just yet. While yes, we should always be concerned about how our data is used and where it goes, the truth is that it’s impossible to avoid selling our likeness to tech companies. All of us use social media everyday to function, and without that intrinsic network, most of us couldn’t work efficiently. It’s unreasonable to simply try and live ‘off the grid’, because it just isn’t realistically viable.

What we can do is get more clued up about what we’re agreeing to. I’m not suggesting you actually spend all your time reading the terms and conditions for everything you use, but just be wary of why companies might be asking for your data or images.

As for FaceApp, a French cyber-security researcher investigated the company and found that it wasn’t harvesting all of your camera roll or photo albums as some had suggested, and was deleting all of the content you uploaded to its servers within 48 hours. User photos are stored in the US, and after an extensive look it seems that the company isn’t much different to any other social media service.

So, the lesson here is that we should be more wary of everything we use. We need to monitor how our data and images are stored more thoroughly, and maybe be more hesitant before we sign on the dotted lines that apps throw at us. It probably won’t be Russia that comes for us, or any particularly evil company – our information’s already being used. It’s best to remember your data is out there, and be vigilante when it comes to uploading your likeliness.

FaceApp isn’t the scary face of a larger evil, it’s simply a sign of the times, and there’s always a way to adapt. Don’t let this social media stress age you prematurely – let FaceApp do that for you.