FaceApp: Privacy concerns and human negligence

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By Antony Mutunga

Lately, whatever you do has to be shared on networks, from narrating instances to sharing thoughts and feelings on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These social media sites have become our lives, from just being a medium for people to stay in touch to being used as a tool for marketing. Regardless, its main aim to be a medium of staying in touch has been its purpose among a majority of the people.

With billions of people connected to social media, new trends on the Internet keep coming up. Year in year out, people get treated to different viral trends that bring multitudes together as they try them out and which seem to vary from crazy dances to people pouring freezing water over themselves.

For those who have been quite active on the Internet for the last few weeks, must have noticed that faces were all over, from Facebook to Instagram. Old faces, altered faces and weird faces of different people were plastered everywhere, making it the most recent viral challenge on the Internet. This was possible due to an application known as FaceApp. The AI-powered app, that has been around since 2017, enables users to upload their photos or take a picture through the app then alter using filters to allow them to look older, younger or of a different gender.

The app, which is a Russian start-up, is quite popular among the millennials as they make up the majority generation in social media. According to EMarketer, a New York-based market research company, out of the 3.2 billion active social media users, 90.4% are millennials while Generation X and baby boomers account for 77.5% and 48.2% respectively. Similar to other viral challenges, the FaceApp challenge was purely for fun and to bring people together.

However, unknown to most users of FaceApp, the app was dealing a blow to their privacy and security. It was sending the photos to be altered to their cloud without making it clear that processing is not going on locally on their device. According to Yaroslav Goncharov, FaceApp CEO, the task of altering faces is done in the cloud. Despite sending photos to the cloud, the CEO stated that only the photos to be altered were sent there, adding that the app would only store photos in the cloud for up to 48hours for performance and traffic after that most of them are deleted. What happens to the rest? It is possible, with one’s photo, to use deepfake technology to create fake but stunningly realistic videos of a person or to alter a video to show something that didn’t occur.

Even though such concerns caused debate around the world on privacy, the users are to blame as well. Many of them rushed to download and accept its terms and conditions without reading them. As a result of being fun and trendy, users usually forget to read these terms, as mostly they are concerned with not missing out on the fun.

If most users had gone through the terms and conditions of FaceApp they would have noticed its user content section. It states that one grants FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, 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.

This gives FaceApp a rights-free license to use your photos with terms stipulated in the document without any compensation. Additionally, if one accepts terms and conditions, they grant FaceApp consent to use the User Content, regardless of whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity. By using the Services, you agree that the User Content may be used for commercial purposes. This means that the application has the right to use one’s information for their marketing purposes.

Its terms go on to state that FaceApp, its affiliates, or service providers may transfer information that it collects about the user, including personal information across borders and from your country or jurisdiction to other countries or jurisdictions around the world regardless of one’s country. Even though this is part of its terms, according to its CEO, the app does not send any information to its research and development center based in Russia.

This situation has opened eyes to the privacy and security risks that many of today’s applications pose. Similar to FaceApp, are apps like Facebook, which most users have been using without getting to know the terms and conditions. Technology companies coming up with applications need to do more to protect the privacy of their consumers even though they already provide T&C. On the other hand, users need to stop hopping on the bandwagon and first know what they are getting into before using different apps. We are at a time when advancement in technology is increasing, we should be more concerned with the coming apps in the future. FaceApp is just the beginning, with the likes of 5G, the future apps might be more troubling.