An app which artificially alters faces to make them look older has gone viral on social media over the past few days, with people rushing to download it and take part in the #FaceAppChallenge.
But warnings about the app’s terms and conditions allowing it to collect data from users’ phones – and the claim that its parent company was based in Russia and had received funds from the Russian government – are now causing concern.
The UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said that it is “considering” the concerns which have been raised with it over the service’s potential privacy issues.
— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) July 16, 2019
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Thousands of posts on Instagram and Twitter under the hashtag show modified images of people as if they were older – invariably appearing with wrinkles and grey hair.
The app’s users are able to change the expression of a picture to make the subject smile, look either younger or older, or to change their gender or hair style.
Celebrities including Gordon Ramsay, Jared Leto and the Jonas Brothers – even the Borussia Dortmund football team’s Twitter account – have flocked to the app to test it out.
The company addressed the concerns regarding its Russian base to the 9to5Mac tech news website, saying that while its core development team was based in Russia, user data wasn’t transferred there.
Fears about what the app’s data collection impact could be on users’ privacy are probably misplaced when it comes to celebrities, although there may be commercial considerations at stake.
Concerns that the app would allow hostile Russian authorities to develop facial profiles for facial recognition purposes don’t seem especially relevant for celebrities whose photographs are widely available.
However, the app’s terms of service – similar to most other apps which allow users to upload images – grant the parent company “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide” rights to the photographs.
For celebrities whose photographs are owned by publicists or professional photographers, this could lead to an intellectual-property conflict, but not necessarily an invasion of privacy as the images are already in existence.
Music stars Miley Ray Cyrus, Drake and Sam Smith have also joined in with the viral challenge.
— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) July 17, 2019
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— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) July 17, 2019
Other forms of image manipulation have been considered to be harassment, including those which doctor images to present the subject as if they were nude. But the level of infringement posed by aging someone has not yet been considered to meet the threshold of abuse.
FaceApp also said it only uploaded the images which users select for editing so that its algorithms which process them can be run on the cloud rather than on users’ phones.
Its spokesperson added that “most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date”.
“We are aware of stories raising concerns about FaceApp and will be considering them,” a spokeswoman for the ICO said.
“We would advise people signing up to any app to check what will happen to their personal information and not to provide any personal details until they are clear about how they will be used.”