Technology

FaceApp is a privacy nightmare, but so is almost everything else you do online

The hottest app of the moment collects your data, but they’re certainly not alon

Internet phenomena have a tendency to come on strong and totally take over our social feeds, seemingly out of nowhere. The current meme dominating just about every platform involves an app called FaceApp, which uses artificial intelligence to apply surprisingly convincing filters to pictures of people. The app recently introduced a filter that shows what you could look like when you’re old. The results are somewhat convincing and rather entertaining. But, as with all app-based fun, it comes a cost involving your personal info, privacy, and security.

This isn’t the first time the FaceApp has spread around the internet. The app generated attention when it debuted back in 2017. We’ve also seen this kind of phenomena plenty of times before, including Snapchat’s gender swap filter, which was everywhere just a few weeks ago.

The backlash to the FaceApp, however, has been swift and louder than usual because the developer operates out of Russia. To date, however, there’s no proof that the company has ties to the Russian government or has any bad intentions for the data. But, with the 2020 U.S. election getting into its tumultuous swing and years of news reports about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 voting process, users are justifiably on edge.

The company has already issued a statement about the security concerns.

When you download the program, it asks for permission to access your photos, send you notifications, and activate your camera. We’re so used to this process of clicking through permission roadblocks that it’s easy to become numb to it. Granting access to our photo library is, in some ways, the new clicking blindly to agree that we’ve ready the iTunes terms of service agreement. We’re not entirely sure what we’re getting into, but there’s fun on the other side of that dialog box and we want to hurry up and get to it.00:3501:54

If you sign up for FaceApp, however, you are giving up some of your personal information and any content you generate through the app. As a Twitter user pointed out, agreeing to the app’s terms of service grants it very liberal usage of whatever content you upload or create. The terms contain troubling phrases like “commercial” and “sub-licensable,” which means your images—along with information associated with them—could end up in advertisements. This doesn’t mean that the company “owns” your photos like some news outlets have suggested, but rather that they can use them for pretty much whatever they want down the road.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s somewhat similar to the agreement for many other social networks. Twitter, for instance, uses the following language:

“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”

You’ll notice that blurb doesn’t include the phrase “commercial” usage, which elevates its security over FaceApp. But, Twitter does have rules that allow “ecosystem partners” to interact with your content according to rules that you almost certainly haven’t read.

Facebook has a similar clause in its terms of service, which read,

“….when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.”

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