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#1 App on App Store Hit with Privacy Concerns

SubverseJul 22, 2019, 9:37:32 PM

By Mac Molli 

FaceApp, the app that adds effects to your photo like an old or young age filter, smile, makeup effects, and facial hair, is currently the number one free app on the Apple Store. The app has been facing privacy concerns as many Americans are uploading their photos and other data to an app service run by a Russian based company, Wireless Lab, led by Yaroslav Goncharov. Goncharov told Afisha in 2017 he was inspired during his three years at Microsoft to design FaceApp, by applying artificial-intelligence and machine-learning techniques to the mass processing of digital photos.

Another issue raised by users is the app overriding settings if the user denies access to their camera roll, they could still select and upload a photo despite the app not having permission to access the photos. The app warns users, "Each photo you select for editing will be uploaded to our servers for image processing and face transformation."

The warning didn’t exist before its update last week, in its terms of service the app warned users about photo uploads stating, "grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sublicensable license to use" their data. Wireless Lab denies that it stores user data in Russia. They confirmed with TechCrunch that most of the processing for photo effects are done in the cloud. Goncharov told The Washington Post that FaceApp photos are stored on servers run by Amazon and Google. They claim they only upload photos that users select for editing, and security tests have not found evidence the app uploads a user’s entire camera roll.

FaceApp specifies that it might store the photos that users have uploaded in the cloud for a short period of time for ‘performance and traffic’ needs to ensure a user doesn’t repeatedly add multiple edits to the previously edited photo, a feature only allowed for premium users. They told TechCrunch, “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.” In addition, FaceApp ensures “We don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties.” However, a Washington Post analysis found data flowing to third-party Facebook and Google trackers that many apps use for online ads. FaceApp’s privacy terms state the company can save a user’s uploaded photos and other data, even if a user decides to delete them.

U.S Senator, Chuck Schumer, called for a federal investigation into FaceApp. He says the application “could pose national security and privacy risks for millions of U.S citizens.” In a statement on Twitter, he said, “The FBI and FTC must look into the national security & privacy risks now. Because millions of Americans have used it. It’s owned by a Russia-based company. And users are required to provide full, irrevocable access to their personal photos and data.”