Unless you’ve recently been avoiding the internet, you’re probably aware of the app called FaceApp. The app has been around for a while, but its downloads have increased exponentially thanks to social media. Tons of people have been using it to alter their images to make them look older, younger, or even switch genders.
The sudden viral interest in FaceApp started earlier this month when celebrities with large social media audiences started to use the app to post aged images of themselves. Now that FaceApp has reached mainstream popularity, many people have questions about whether the app is secure and what the developer is doing with your data.
Here’s everything you need to know about FaceApp.
What is FaceApp?
FaceApp was developed by a Russia-based company called Wireless Lab. The free app first launched for iOS in January 2017 and was an immediate success, garnering over one million downloads in the first two weeks. FaceApp for Android launched in February 2017.
The app uses AI filters that can be used to alter images to make users look older, younger, or even switch genders. It can also handle more subtle changes in an image, such as altering a person’s hairstyle, adding a smile, or applying makeup or tattoos to a face.
While the app is free to use, it does show banner ads. It also puts in a watermark on all images that you alter with FaceApp. If you want to get rid of the watermark, do away with banner ads, or access more features, you can subscribe to FaceApp Pro, which costs $19.99 a year.
Why has FaceApp suddenly become hugely popular?
When you take a trip to the Year 3000. pic.twitter.com/O9Dxpwj6ex
— Jonas Brothers (@jonasbrothers) July 16, 2019
FaceApp had already been downloaded tens of millions of times since launch, but it’s been extremely popular over the past few weeks. The app’s increase in popularity likely has a lot to do with celebrities using FaceApp. Pop artists like Drake and the Jonas Brothers, athletes like LeBron James, and actors like Zachary Levi have all joined in on the FaceApp trend.
The result is a massive increase in downloads for FaceApp. The research firm Sensor Tower (via Business Insider) concludes that in mid-June, FaceApp was adding about 65,000 new users a day. That’s quite a lot for any app. However, since the use of FaceApp went viral, it has added a whopping 1.8 million users a day. In fact, the app has been downloaded over 12.7 million times since July 10.
Is FaceApp violating my privacy and data?
Because FaceApp has become so popular, many people have decided to check out its terms of service. Officially, the terms state that the company behind FaceApp has the rights to use any photo altered by the app for commercial purposes. Also, any user data it collects can still be stored on the company’s servers, even if you decide to delete the app from your phone. If you want to completely delete your data, you can go into the app and ask the company to do so, but it’s not exactly an easy process.
There are also concerns the company behind the app is based in Russia, and the user data could be sold to the Russian government. That possibility caused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to send a letter to the FBI and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Senator Schumer asked the agencies to look into FaceApp, stating that he had fears about “how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including foreign governments.”
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) experienced an attack on its computer network in 2015 and 2016, and the U.S. government believes Russian intelligence forces were behind those attacks. Because of this, CNN reported the DNC has requested all of its 2020 election campaigns to not use FaceApp.
For its part, a spokesperson for FaceApp told TechCrunch that it doesn’t sell or share user data with third parties and doesn’t transfer user data to Russia. It also stated the company deletes images from its servers within 48 hours from when they were uploaded, and it doesn’t transfer images other than those you select for editing. Finally, FaceApp uses U.S.-based companies AWS and Google Cloud for its cloud storage and processing.
Should you download it?
You should read the terms of service before you download any app onto your smartphone. Officially, FaceApp says it does not sell the data or photo info the app collects to anyone, including the Russian government. However, it’s certainly understandable the U.S. Democratic Party might have reasons to doubt that in light of what has happened over the past few years. Keep in mind that the app has also been available for over two years before its sudden burst in popularity, and there have been no indications of any security risks.
Ultimately, the decision is yours whether or not to download FaceApp. While there have been some privacy concerns, it appears FaceApp doesn’t offer any increased risks compared to similar AI-based photo editing app. On the other hand, using any kind of app that logs onto a remote server and access and stores your data can possibly result in that information being taken by outside forces like cybercriminals. The choice is yours.