FaceApp, which was first launched in 2017, has gone viral once again with ‘the old age’ filter proving to be rather popular on social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook Stories are filled with people posting pictures of what they would look like when older thanks to FaceApp, and some of the results are hilarious. But the terms and conditions of the app raise serious privacy issues.
The company has also issued a statement regarding these concerns to TechCrunch trying to ease privacy fears around the app. FaceApp, which is based in Russia, said that they only do photo processing in the cloud for a better performance and denied transferring other images from the phone to the cloud.
But on Twitter, many users have already highlighted the app’s problematic terms and services. One major issue is that by using the app you are granting it license to use your edited photos anywhere, even for commercial purposes.
FaceApp gets worldwide license to use images
The terms and services read, “You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, 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.”
The words ‘perpetual’ ‘irrevocable’ royalty-free and worldwide mean that even if you use the app once to create an edited image, it could be used by the company for promotional purposes anywhere in the world. Worse, you might not be even know about it. As this article on PhoneArena points out, the app could use your edited photos on a billboard in Moscow, and you will not be able to do anything about it, because the app’s terms and services are such.
Further the statement states that user is granting FaceApp the permission to use the content irrespective of “whether it includes an individual’s name, likeness, voice or persona, sufficient to indicate the individual’s identity.” This again poses major privacy risks for a user.
Simply put, FaceApp could use this ‘content’, which includes all the pictures that people have been creating via the app’s filters for “commercial purposes.”
Using the app also means that everything shared on it is public. “When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand that your User Content and any associated information (such as your [username], location or profile photo) will be visible to the public,” read the terms and services.
FaceApp’s statement on privacy
The app also needs access to a user’s photo library and is uploading pictures to the clouds services, rather than storing them locally. But in the statement to TechCrunch, FaceApp says all such photos are deleted within 48 hours.
The statement says, “We might store an uploaded photo in the cloud. The main reason for that is performance and traffic: we want to make sure that the user doesn’t upload the photo repeatedly for every edit operation. Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”
FaceApp number one on iOS
All of this is worrying when one considers the popularity of FaceApp, given it has gone viral thanks to the old age filter. AppAnnie’s data shows that FaceApp has reached the number one app position ins 121 countries on iOS App Store. On Google Play, FaceApp has over 100 million downloads. The app is also being used by a large number of celebrities, who are joining the viral trend.
Regarding deletion of data, FaceApp said it will accept requests from users for removing all their data from the servers. But they also said that 99 per cent of users don’t log in given all features are available without doing this, so they are not collecting data that could identify a user.
FaceApp and data sharing with third-parties, data storage
“We may share User Content and your information (including but not limited to, information from cookies, log files, device identifiers, location data, and usage data) with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that FaceApp is part of, or that become part of that group (“Affiliates”). Affiliates may use this information to help provide, understand, and improve the Service (including by providing analytics) and Affiliates’ own services (including by providing you with better and more relevant experiences). But these Affiliates will honor the choices you make about who can see your photos. We also may share your information as well as information from tools like cookies, log files, and device identifiers and location data, with third-party organizations that help us provide the Service to you (“Service Providers”).
The team has also tried to address the Russia concerns, given the app’s developers are based in St Petersburg, saying that while their core research and development team is indeed in Russia, the user data is not transferred there.
Regarding the issue of the app accessing all photos from the gallery, the company said it only uploads the picture selected by the user. “We upload only a photo selected for editing. You can quickly check this with any of network sniffing tools available on the internet,” adds the statement.
FaceApp also relies on artificial intelligence and neural networks to create these filter effects, which can result in a user looking older or younger. Neural networks require a lot of data in order to improve, and with the app going viral, all of these images shared by users will likely help improve and train newer models for the app.
While the company has tried to downplay the privacy fears in its statement, the official privacy statement and the terms and conditions for using FaceApp are not very reassuring.