FaceApp Russia Connection Has Users Worried About Privacy, Safety

FaceApp is currently one of the most popular photo filter apps online. It turns users into old people or children by using their photographs and Artificial Intelligence learning technology, the program has grown in popularity with Twitter users and influencers sharing their "FaceApp Challenge" photos. Over 80 million users have used the app since its launch in 2017, making it the go-to place to see what you'd look like as a grandparent.

Russia faceapp
Can we trust Faceapp? Newsweek/ Wireless Labs

Rumors on Twitter started to spread about the dangers of FaceApp, its ties with Russia and the security issues users should consider. When the news came to light that the developers of the app were based in St. Petersburg and that the privacy policies allowed the app to have a constant data connection, many online became suspicious. But is there anything really to worry about?

FaceApp and Russia

Forbes reports that though the developers are Russian, the app's servers are located in the United States at Amazon data centers. FaceApp does require permission to access your photos, but once they are uploaded developer Wireless Labs has access and control over them.

"It is a Russian company which means that if they wanted to, they could probably access that data," Matthew Green, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek. He believes that "there's no reason to believe that they do" but "once data leaves your phone, it isn't not yours anymore."

So i while there's no proof your face being turned into a pruny version will give evil Russians anything valuable, it's still something to keep in mind.

FaceApp Privacy Policy

FaceApp has a learning algorithm that is constantly evolving with every picture that is fed into its system. According to the app's Privacy Policy, it also collects your location, and constantly uses data and log file information that says when you visit a page or an app. This is fairly common for modern smart phone applications, but according to Mark Nunnikhoven, Vice President at Cloud Research at Trend Micro, FaceApp is " far more liberal" with its policy.

faceapp russia privacy policy
The software at work, turning you older Wireless Labs

"(The policy) is extremely broad and there are a number of clauses in it that are a challenge for the average user to interpret, if they take the time to read through it," Nunnikhoven said. "FaceApp and its affiliated companies can do whatever they would like with the photos you send to the service."

Putting your photo out there isn't necessarily an issue if you don't mind it belonging it to someone else. Even if you don't post the picture on social media, it is now in the public and no longer under your control. Nunnikhoven warns that "if you don't want that photo to be public, either don't use the app or that particular photo."

The app doesn't have the processing power needed to age or deage you, so it has to upload your images to the cloud. Though there are exceptions, like Apple which manages to do it directly on your iPhone, but Green says "this is just a technical limitation of many phones, so it's not that unusual."

Privacy issues when it comes to smartphone applications are becoming more common. Check your phone right now and you'd be surprised what information you are giving out without even noticing. In May, NBC reported that the photo storage app Ever was using its collection of user uploaded images to "develop facial recognition tools."

"People are very good at understanding the short term reward but struggle to evaluate any possible longer term consequences," Nunnikhoven said.

Faces are becoming a crucial biometric in our world as security cameras and surveillance in public locations becomes more available. "We should probably expect that people will amass databases of (faces) eventually, but they are an important but terrible biometric," Green said. Facial recognition isn't always correct and can be tricked; applying face make-up like the Insane Clown Posse and its Juggalo fan base will help you avoid detection.