FaceApp: A major threat to personal data?

FaceApp: A major threat to personal data?

Photo credit: FaceApp Facebook page

FaceApp is a mobile application for iOS and Android developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, which uses neural network technology to automatically generate highly realistic transformations of faces in photographs. The app can transform a face to make it smile, look younger, look older or even change gender.

However, according to experts, the app is accessing users' personal data and users' photos can be used anywhere, at times illegally.

FaceApp's terms of use say, "You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your user content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your user content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you. When you post or otherwise share user content on or through our services, you understand that your user content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public."

That means that the app can use a person's pictures at any time without compensating the user, which is a dangerous level of access to provide.

As PhoneArena’s Peter Kostadinov said: “You might end up on a billboard somewhere in Moscow, but your face will most likely end up training some AI facial-recognition algorithm.”

Recently, Twitter user Joshua Nozzi, who is an app developer, tweeted that the FaceApp could be taking all the photos from one's phone and uploading them to its servers without any obvious permission from the user. Later, he tweeted that he was merely trying to warn users about a probable consequence.

Chuck Schumer, a leading Democratic senator in the US, has called on the country's Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation.

The senator asked for an investigation into potential "dark patterns" of data misuse, including "opaque disclosures and broader user authorisations."

Schumer ended his letter by linking the FaceApp controversy with concerns about unregulated facial recognition surveillance, "it is essential," he said, "that users have the information they need to ensure their personal and biometric data remains secure, including from hostile foreign nations."

Only time will tell whether FaceApp is a deadly app that is jeopardising the personal data and identities of more than 100 million users. For now, social media seems to be snared in the web of exploring the future with glimpses of older selves.

This next big app phenomenon may have a dark side that's difficult to contain. We may do well to heed the early warnings.