When you get old, you’ll look like yourself, only older. The fact that there’s an app to visually illustrate the obvious, should come as no surprise. Nor, perhaps, should the joy that millions of celebrities and commoners seem to be getting by posting digitally-aged photos of themselves. What is a surprise, a refreshing one, is the suspicion over FaceApp’s surge in popularity. While the app was first launched in 2017, it has had over 100 million downloads since it introduced the “ageing” feature last month, which allows users to upload a photograph and have it morphed, through a “neural network” AI system-based filter.
Much like Facebook’s 10-year-challenge that went viral earlier this year, FaceApp sparked concerns that the vast inventory of photographs it is collecting will be used to develop facial recognition software, make possible identity theft. The “terms of service” of the app state that users grant its creators “perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide” use of any data they share. The panic around privacy has been enhanced by the fact that FaceApp’s parent-company is Russia-based, “Russian hacking” having become synonymous for some Americans with fixing elections, undermining choice.
The panic around FaceApp could be dismissed as a throwback to Cold War-era paranoia. But in the off chance that Vladimir Putin isn’t actually interested in your beach-side selfie, (FaceApp has clarified that it deletes most of its data every 48 hours and stores it on temporary servers in the US), the paranoia may be a positive thing. It could mean that a degree of data literacy has permeated internet users, that the cost of every internet fad will now be weighed and measured.