Thousands of people already sharing the results of their experiments on social media. Transformations of famous figures, actors, politicians, and cricketers emerging from everywhere.
Haven’t you tried the new FaceApp? I bet you may have tried or at least heard the latest viral news about it. If not, this App can transform your face to make it smile, look younger, look older, or change gender in seconds (Oops!).
This app is also capable to turn blank or grumpy expressions into smiling ones. Well, this at least helps some people smile.
The app has gone viral - but how many of you have read the terms and conditions?
What the FaceApp do?
The FaceApp is an image editing App which generates highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs automatically using the neural network technology.
The App provides many options to manipulate the uploaded images such as editor options of adding an impression, make-up, smiles, hair colors, hairstyles, glasses, age or beards. Filters, lens blur, and backgrounds along with overlays, tattoos, and vignettes are also a part of the app.
Is it the new kid on the block?
The FaceApp is not new. It was developed by a Russian company Wireless Lab (Russian? oh yes). First launched in 2017 on iOS in January and on Android in February same year. Ever since it has met much criticism in many areas like gender changes, ethnicity filters and of course over privacy concerns of user data.
Why FaceApp seems so scary?
Ever since the face-editing tool went viral in the last few days (especially after July 18, 2019 update), many have raised concerns over its terms and conditions. Many claims that the company a cavalier approach to users’ data. Some further claims the App can upload additional images available in the phone where the app is installed.
Eyebrows were raised lately when app developer Joshua Nozzi tweeted that FaceApp was uploading troves of images from people’s smartphones without permission.
The company said the App takes only the uploaded images by users that have been selected for editing and not additional images. Further FaceApp said in a statement most images were deleted from its servers within 48 hours of being uploaded.
The FaceApp also informed they even accept user requests to remove personal data from their servers. However, they said their support team is backlogged with those requests. FaceApp also stated 99% of users choose not to log in, so they don’t have much in the way of identifying information.
A French cyber-security researcher who uses the pseudonym Elliot Alderson investigated Mr. Nozzi’s claims. He found that no such bulk uploading was going on – FaceApp was only taking the specific photos users decided to submit as the company responded.
Why the App cannot process locally?
Questions raise why FaceApp needs to upload photos to the cloud at all when the app could just do the same process images locally theoretically.
Cyber-security researcher Jane Manchun Wong tweeted that this may simply give FaceApp a competitive advantage – it is harder for others developing similar apps to see how the algorithms work.
Though the FaceApp itself is a Russian company with offices in St Petersburg, the servers (Google & Amazon) that stores user photos are located in the US.
What about facial recognition?
Others have speculated that FaceApp may use data gathered from user photos to train facial recognition algorithms. This is also possible even after the photos are deleted because measurements of features on a person’s face can be extracted and used for such purposes.
The gender change filter
The gender change transformations of FaceApp have attracted particular interest from the LGBT and transgender communities, due to their ability to realistically simulate the appearance of any person as the opposite gender in a few seconds.
In another instance, a “hot” transformation was available in the earlier app (in 2017) supposedly making its users appear more physically attractive. This was accused of racism for lightening the skin color of black people and making them look more European. This same feature was briefly renamed “spark” before being removed.
The ethnicity filter
The FaceApp once again faced criticism when it featured “ethnicity filters” depicting “White”, “Black”, “Asian”, and “Indian”. In response to much criticism made in Press and Social Media, the company immediately withdrew this feature.
Call for FBI investigation into the App
US senator Chuck Schumer expressed “serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it” and called for an FBI investigation into the app.
In response to questions, the company’s founder, Yaroslav Goncharov, stated that user data and uploaded images were not being transferred to Russia but instead processed on servers running in the Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services
Twitter has similar Terms and Conditions
US lawyer Elizabeth Potts Weinstein argued the app’s terms and conditions suggested user photos could be used for commercial purposes, such as FaceApp’s ads.
But Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of tech site Lifewire, pointed out that Twitter’s terms, for example, contained a similar clause.
Are users aware of all these?
Everyone is fascinated to look into their future and the past. Well, FaceApp brings this wish into a reality in seconds. Many people just install Apps and mark the Terms and conditions as agreed even without reading a word.
FaceApp is the most popular free app on Google Play and Apple’s App Store thanks to an age filter that makes people in photos look much older. I believe this trend will go on for some time until er pick up the next.