FaceApp triggers safety fears

When you give an app access to your texts, photos and contacts, you are risking a lot. The Internet is split into two parts---black and white---and you should know which app falls where, experts warn

An app that helps people see how they look when they age has triggered security fears across the world.

Last week, pictures generated by FaceApp, an app many in Bengaluru have also tried out, went viral on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The app soon raised serious data privacy concerns, since the terms and conditions said all photos created and posted on it belonged to the Russian company running it.

Alvin Rodrigues, senior director, security strategist at a cybersecurity company Forcepoint, says a face is one‘s personal copyright. 

“From a security perspective, you are giving away your ability to use your face as a password to lock files and devices. Several mobile companies now use facial recognition technology to allow users to lock their phones,” he says.

Your face is something that cannot change. It is personal and permanent and often serves as an effective identification key.

“Photographs uploaded to a cloud are at risk of being targeted by hackers for facial identification,” he adds. 

By using the app, you may be surrendering copyright to our face and it may be sold or used for commercial applications. App users should read all terms and conditions to understand what they are getting into, he says.

Mayank Dhawan, security consultant at an MNC, says most people ignore terms of privacy when they sign up for such apps. 

“Since it is a long list, most users don‘t go through them. Unknowingly, they grant rights to personal data, including photographs and names, that could be used in the market without consent or monetary benefit,” he says.

Always read terms

How much of your data is shared and sold is not clear, he adds. “This is what happened in the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal too,” he says. 

He explains how the Internet is split into two parts: white and black.

“The white area is applications that help you in daily activities, and black is where hackers use sell your data to other organisations,” he explains.

Users should understand how an app uses personal data.

“FaceApp says a user‘s data and pictures can be deleted from the server after 48 hours. One doesn‘t know where they are shared till that time. Also, it‘s not clear if the data gets deleted by itself or you have to go and delete it,” he says.

Experts say users should ask themselves a basic question: Is a trend on social media more important than personal security?

“While downloading and using an app, keep in mind the bigger and older it is, the safer it is. A breach for a big company could affect their market share, which means they are more careful,” he says.   

Always read terms

Raj Kumar, tech lead with an MNC, says using apps that ask for a lot of data is unwise.

“Access to our camera and location is granted to most applications, which is not a good practice. Once you give access to your information you can‘t do anything about it later. It‘s important to know what you are getting into,” he says.

Apps give no option to users to delete a photograph saved on a cloud server.

Things are not so bad on social media platforms such as Facebook, he says.

When a private or offensive photograph is posted, you can contact the website and request removal.

“It is a long process but they agree and help address the grievance. But it is not that easy with apps such as FaceApp,” says Raj.

He says it is best not to try new apps with little or no concern for data security. “Such applications are like graveyards, there‘s no coming back,” he quips. 

What can users do?

- When downloading an application, read the terms and conditions carefully.
- Watch out for applications: the bigger and older they are, the better their privacy regulations.
- Be wary of applications that ask for access to your phone‘s camera, GPS location and contacts.

What‘s the latest concern?

FaceApp, an application created by a company in Russia, uses an AI-based imaging tool to change a picture. It offers to change one’s appearance to either young or old, change facial expressions, and even turn female appearances to male and vice versa. FaceApp uses photo processing. A major concern is that once you sign up, the app can use edited photographs anywhere, and even for commercial use.

Other threats: smart home devices

Devices like Alexa and Google Home are always tuned in to the user’s sound environment. Experts suggest muting the device when not in use.
“Otherwise, the device could be recording all of one‘s private conversations,” says Mayank Dhawan, security consultant.

 

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